'Dangerous fallacies' surrounding new curriculum, claims expert

4th June 2010 at 01:00

Teachers are getting the wrong end of the stick about Curriculum for Excellence and need more help in implementing the reform, says an expert in curricular change.

CfE's lack of attention to content has led to the emergence of "some quite dangerous fallacies", writes Stirling University's Mark Priestley in an article for the latest Scottish Educational Review. "There seems to be a view developing in some quarters that skills are more important than knowledge - that it does not matter what is taught, as long as young people are developing skills," he says.

It has also become a widespread belief that content should reflect the desires, as opposed to the needs, of pupils. Content perceived as "uninteresting" will disappear while other areas are overdone, as with the "Nazification" of history.

The flexibility of CfE might also provide an excuse for schools, concerned about their places in exam league tables, to abolish low-performing departments.

Dr Priestley observes that CfE, like similar reforms around the world, comes "packaged in proselytizing rhetoric" which, contrary to what its proponents would say, undermines teacher autonomy by framing educational policy as "a set of common-sense orthodoxies, to which all should aspire".

CfE's four capacities, meanwhile, are "incompatible" with its outcomes and experiences, and both can prove unhelpful in practice: the capacities become an unthinking mantra in some classrooms, and the outcomes and experiences allow schools merely to "tweak" existing provision.

"This is a bleak view of the future of CfE, but one that is highly likely in many schools - a tick-the-box approach, which will result only in changes in terminology, while classroom practices continue much in their present form," Dr Priestley says.

He proposes several ways of improving engagement with CfE, including: setting up working parties and designating staff to take the initiative forward; providing more resources and continuing professional development; creating new opportunities for dialogue, and changing physical spaces - for example, bringing previously separate departments together in one workspace.

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