This criticism is reasonable and constructive

9th April 2010 at 01:00

I was intrigued by the responses in The TESS recently from the guru poster boys of Scottish education when I query aspects of Curriculum for Excellence. Both Ian Smith (March 5) and Brian Boyd (March 26) see criticism as coming either from a deliberate attempt to be negative or from the critic simply not knowing how to engage pupils in a riveting learning experience.

Such a staggeringly patronising approach is to dismiss many deep-thinking Scottish teachers who have concerns about the current lack of guidance. Absurdly, Mr Smith thinks all teachers need is to sample the Critical Skills box of tricks. I have experienced two days of the said course and was disappointed by both the aged hand-outs and the presentation of well- worn strategies.

But is CfE really about developing the best teaching and learning strategies? If it is, then the aim has been lost in the acres of badly- crafted language used to promote it. If it is not about that, then what drives it?

Mr Boyd agrees with me that the language of CfE publications is clumsy in places, but he implies that I don't support the notion of involving parents. I have never suggested that parents shouldn't be fully engaged in the education of their children, but all communication with parents should be unambiguously and accurately expressed.

It is not unreasonable or cynical for teachers to ask that plans for education are lucid and justifiable. Likewise, I encourage my pupils to examine the perceived wisdom of authority figures. In using democratic channels to question and protest, we are fostering the development of the four capacities in our pupils.

Yet last week's announcement from the Education Secretary only deepens the gloom. Michael Russell invited headteachers at schools which are not yet ready for CfE to tell local authorities and the Scottish Government what help they need.

Any secondary school asking for assistance will be offered tailored support, including additional materials, expert advice and help from neighbouring schools. Mr Russell said he would provide the clarity teachers are asking for, along with seminars to enable headteachers to share their experiences and work with experts to make sure all curriculum areas are the gold standard in that area.

I look forward to the clarity, but I am appalled at how Mr Russell is missing the point. Does he really think that heads will shoot their hands in the air and admit defeat? What if neighbouring schools are also not ready? Who are the experts? Are heads really the best people to make sure that all curriculum areas are the gold standard?

The hardest job in a school is delivering transfixing experiences in the classroom, and those who do so successfully are the people who know about gold standards. Mr Russell should ask HMIE to identify the best classroom practice throughout Scotland and work with the relevant practitioners.

Uncertainty is disabling and debilitating; certainty is enabling and strengthening. The Education Secretary must therefore show leadership to close the chasm between the rhetoric and the reality.

Meanwhile, practising teachers must continue to raise their concerns and ask questions. Without their insights, we might as well order the hearse now and lower CfE into its grave.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today