Direction from inspiring leaders needed

11th September 2009 at 01:00

"Call to sway A Curriculum for Excellence sceptics" was a brilliant headline above Emma Seith's news article in The TESS of August 28. Many teachers will appreciate Brian Boyd's acknowledgment that it is a valid position to be sceptical about the creation of a new curriculum. His statement - "you are autonomous professionals and you are going to co- create the curriculum" - could almost function as our nightly mantra.

On the face of it, the chant from the emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University feels liberating. Autonomy implies independence and the capacity to think for oneself from a foundation of self- determination.

Sadly, as things stand, too many straitjackets threaten to strangle creativity in Scottish education. Somehow, we have journeyed to a state of bloated bureaucracy which prizes box-ticking over hearts beating. Our spirits have become emasculated in the burgeoning demand for more superficial accountability. More often than not, we have no time to engage in truly liberating gymnastics of the mind, because we are burdened by external factors over which we have no control.

Why are teachers not busily "co-creating the curriculum?" There are several reasons. One enemy of creativity is entrenched tradition. Some teachers struggle with adapting pedagogy to suit the pupil of the 21st century. Despite reams of authenticated research on brain theory and how young people learn, teaching styles more suited to the Victorian age still exist in some Scottish classrooms.

Inspiration on the scale Professor Boyd is encouraging the profession to show is not possible when we are shackled by tired systems of management. The McCrone agreement was intended to lessen the admin burden on promoted staff, but I have never known paperwork to be as extensive or as onerous as it is now. You can't climb Everest without porters and you can't co- create the curriculum without support staff.

But the biggest problem is the lack of national leadership and, therefore, direction. Schools have ostensibly been given a tabula rasa on which to write their own Curriculum for Excellence. Teachers continue to hesitate, because there is no clear message about what the new curriculum might look like.

Leaping from a great height is only sensible if you have a parachute. It would be a brave headteacher who would command his staff to jump into the blue yonder without some hope of getting safely to the ground, so we are all playing the waiting game.

This involves tinkering at the edges, a few cross-curricular projects, minor alterations to the timetable and plagues of meetings at which no decisions are taken. Meanwhile, we keep a watchful eye on other schools so that we are not the first to get our fingers burnt.

Broadly speaking, I agree with Keir Bloomer's observations on ACfE (August 28), especially his view that Fiona Hyslop's "biggest transformational development for decades" requires far-reaching change in all areas of Scottish education. Such a radical overhaul requires central directives from inspiring leaders. Otherwise, schools will simply produce a weary weak rehash of what they do already.

We are not, Professor Boyd, sceptical as realistic. We need visible leaders who will listen to the troops, issue advice and, in the style of Henry V, inspire us. The most successful revolutions don't materialise from thin air. Plan, execute and deliver. Once more unto the breech, dear friends, once more.

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

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