Crackpot curriculum designs are turning this eternal optimist over to the dark side

18th November 2011 at 00:00
I want to get behind our school system, but if my children were in it, I would look elsewhere

I don't handle negativity well. It grinds me down. Brings out veins at my temples. Makes me walk funny. As a shiny new teacher, I found the criticisms of the soon-to-be-launched-except-that-industrial-action-held- it-up Standard grade initiative hard to take. I looked for the good in it, because the alternative would be to agree with the naysayers that we were in for years of wrecking education.

Fortunately, at least in the case of the sciences, I reckon I was vindicated. It wasn't perfect. The categorisation of test questions into "knowledge and understanding" and "problem solving" was an unnecessary complication. But there can be few of us out there who didn't, on finding that an exam we had made up had an imbalance between the two elements, re- categorise a question or two. As I commented a month or so ago, the practical abilities element was easily re-fashioned into a hoop through which pupils could be trained to jump. And we still teach about the black and white TV.

Having said that, many aspects of the physics course were Curriculum for Excellence before Curriculum for Excellence and it made physics accessible to pupils who would have found the austerity of the O-grade course a barrier.

When Higher Still came in, I even liked NABs, though not the prescription to pass every unit test to gain a course award. The wonderful Judith Gillespie got it right when she suggested that two out of three should suffice. Perhaps she's a Meatloaf fan. Rather than Meatloaf, I must sometimes have seemed like the chirpy optimist who runs through fields of flowers in musicals, singing about how great things are if you give them half a chance.

So listen up. I am glad my own children are far enough through the education system for some catastrophically wrong thinking to leave them unscathed. Even in full-blown Julie Andrews mode I cannot find merit in some of the curriculum architectures I've heard about. Subject choice after S1. No subject choice until after S3. Only five subjects in S4. Guess which area of the curriculum's going to suffer there? Of course, a curriculum area suffering is no big deal if the pupils benefit, but they won't. I don't have space to explain why they won't, but I'll take on anybody, anywhere, to do so.

In the past, I've had a go at private education in what I've hoped was a gentle, jocular way. I fully intend to continue to do so, but if I had a child in early secondary who was destined for one of these crackpot curriculum designs, I would look everywhere, including the private sector, for an alternative.

I'm still optimistic. This will sort itself out, because it has to (massages temple vigorously).

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre.

Gregor Steele would still sing happily about most other aspects of Scottish education.

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