Curriculum contains a lesson for politicians

11th March 2011 at 00:00

In a single week we've got new recommendations on Curriculum for Excellence, Cosla appealing directly to teachers not to reject their pay offer, and the politicians starting out on the first education hustings of the election trail, courtesy of TESS. It's nothing if not exciting.

Can we expect industrial action over teachers' pay and conditions? Cosla is clearly afraid we can, placing unprecedented advertisements in the press (p9). No one will relish such action, but the heat has been turned up with only days of the current Government to go. No wonder Michael Russell wants to get a resolution in the pay talks, as he stressed at the TESS hustings (p8), and the word is that he has really been trying to help all sides to reach a deal.

The teachers, it would seem, have the whip hand. No government wishes to go into an election with a teachers' strike on its hands, schools closed and parent voters struggling with childcare difficulties or worrying about SQA exams coming up. Schools are already experiencing major upheaval, trying to implement the new curriculum: creativity and flexibility are what's called for, but they won't be forthcoming in industrial action.

The education spokespeople at the hustings were unanimous about the value of Curriculum for Excellence and, reading some of the experts' aspirational reports for the next stage (p5), you can see why. The curriculum was conceived under a Labour government and executed under an SNP one. It is, as Mr Russell said on Thursday evening, "the idea that has to be completed"; it is a massive investment in the future. But it is also, as Larry Flanagan of the EIS pointed out, built on the goodwill of teachers. Many will remember the damage left by the teachers' work to rule in the 1970s, when Saturday morning football matches were cancelled and out-of-school activities ceased. It was the extra-curricular that was damaged then; it's the core curricular that's at risk now.

In the same week that the results of the union ballots are to be announced, on the eve of the election campaign, David Cameron's report on the future of devolved school management is due out and the Education Secretary will respond. Cosla, it appears, has few friends - on one hand, the wrath of teachers facing cuts to their conditions; on the other, a parliament that seems remarkable for its cross-party agreement that schools should have more autonomy, headteachers more power and (LibDems apart) 32 local authorities are probably not the best structure for governing Scottish education.

If creativity and flexibility are key themes in Curriculum for Excellence and traits that we aim to cultivate in our young people for life in the 21st century, they are also the traits we would wish to see in our politicians and negotiators at times of crisis. They have two weeks left to show us just what kind of role models they are.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor.

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