Down the road to a full life

17th October 2003 at 01:00
Last month the Education Minister announced an overhaul of the 3-18 curriculum. What can teachers expect from it? Raymond Ross asks members of the review group

A radical restructuring of the Scottish curriculum for the 21st century, focusing on a seamless 3-18 curriculum, could be "potentially momentous in the history of Scottish education," says a leading member of the curriculum review group newly set up by the Education Minister, Peter Peacock.

The group is working on a draft outline and framework of underlying principles of learning and teaching which can be applied across the board from nursery to S6 and beyond. Once agreed, these principles will go out to consultation in the new year and be followed by a review of curriculum content based on them.

The idea that the same principles can apply equally to nursery and to S6 and beyond was broadly welcomed by the group as inspiring and challenging.

What emerged from the group's first meeting was a focus on learning styles and belief in instilling a passion for learning in all young people.

Learning can be fun and should be enjoyable, so the group will aim to see that it is. With emphasis on creativity, imagination and innovation in teaching and learning styles, narrow forms of assessment might be on the way out.

There seemed to be consensus that early years education would and must impact on the whole 3-18 curriculum and that transition stages throughout education to employment would be a crucial focus. Schools should not be held responsible for the entire growth of a child, nor for all of society's ills, but the curriculum should equip children for full citizenship.


Linda Kinney, early education services, Stirling

"Our cultural conventions are changing with regard to young children. This is a really dynamic stage of learning and is one that should and will impact on the whole 3-18 curriculum.

"Children are citizens from a very young age. They are active, competent, rich and resourceful learners. So our principles and values must take into account creativity, flexibility and continuity.

"We now see very young children as researchers themselves, exploring and evaluating situations through play. Play allows them to learn independently, to make choices and to learn from each other. They work things out together, researching their own understanding. We need to enhance this and develop it further throughout the curriculum.

"Early years education has something to teach the later stages of learning and teaching. In nurseries, children have time, space and capacity to explore how they learn and we have an opportunity to understand how each individual child learns best.

"As children develop their sense of self, our crucial role is to support and respect that sense of self, to give them messages about their importance and to build on that through the later stages of the curriculum.

"A seamless curriculum is a challenge. But it is not necessarily about age; it's about a culture that says children are resourceful citizens from the earliest age. So similar values and principles will apply throughout."


Jean Campbell, headteacher of Glendale Primary, Glasgow

"I'm all for looking at opportunities for flexibility in the primary curriculum in terms of pupils being able to follow things through in depth to pursue a richness of study.

"Part of the 5-14 curriculum is very good at making us look at things in depth but, because of its rigid structure, a lot of cross-curricular work gives way to discrete subjects, to tight wee boxes, and we have lost something of the rich environment. We need flexibility to allow children to be more investigative in their learning, to give them the great enjoyment of being involved.

"Transition work, especially between nursery and primary, has developed remarkably but we need opportunities to work more closely in terms of curriculum transfer as well as pupil transfer to develop a similar approach to learning and teaching in the different sectors. I think primary teachers also need more opportunities to meet colleagues in nursery and secondary sectors to share our styles and to plan together.

"I really hope this will be a fundamental review. That is certainly the impression the Education Minister gave at its launch."


George MacBride, the Educational Institute of Scotland education convener and principal teacher of support for learning at Govan High, Glasgow

"The key issue is the concept of seamlessness being applied across the three- to 18-year-old spectrum.

"Principles would have to be clear but allow flexibility to suit the needs of every child and draw on the wealth of teachers'

expertise, so that the curriculum is not a centrally given object. The curriculum has to recognise the ways in which youngsters learn. There has to be a psychological as well as a philosophical input into the development of the principles.

"We also have to recognise the ways in which society has changed and will continue to change. So, the principles have to allow for growth and development in practice.

"Obviously, information technology has affected society, but there are other issues, such as the sense of disaffection that a lot of young people feel with society, which will have to be addressed.

"The principles should also allow us to move away from the emphasis we have had on narrow forms of assessment. The curriculum should be driven by learning and teaching and by social needs, not by narrowly defined forms of assessment."


Graeme Hyslop, principal of Langside College, Glasgow

"We need to focus on the core philosophical issues and start with a blank piece of paper, not from the present paradigm. We are ready for change.

"At Langside College, and in further education in general, we have a high level of responsibility for teaching the pre-school profession.

I look forward to putting the early education experience forward from soundings I will take from colleagues.

"I think there is likely to be a discussion of the balance of the learning and teaching process. One thing to focus on here is making learning enjoyable.

"Visiting our nursery in the college, you are always struck by how the young children never stop learning. It is a thought-provoking environment and I believe 3-5 education can teach 14-18 something about approaches to learning.

"Scotland has a high level of non-enjoyment when it comes to learning and we have to address that. We should be inspiring a passion for learning.

"I'm glad the Education Minister has included further education from the start and not, as is often the case, as an afterthought. FE wants to contribute to the whole discussion."


Keir Bloomer, chief executive of Clackmannanshire

"This curriculum review is a great opportunity because we haven't looked at the curriculum as a whole in the past 25 to 30 years. We've only looked at bits, starting with the Munn and Dunning Committees (1977) on S3 and S4, and there is a general feeling that the bits don't fit together.

"It's good that we are beginning by looking at curriculum principles and not curriculum guidelines. If anything, there has been too much of guidelines and not enough of principles.

"I'm quite anxious that the curriculum principles we eventually put into practice build on the national priorities.

"One of the benefits of a coherent set of principles which can apply from nursery to further education and lifelong learning should be that transitions become less problematic.

"Creativity is an important area we'll have to consider; creativity, imagination, flexibility and more innovative thinking in learning and teaching at the different levels."


Anton Collela, acting chief executive of the SQA

"There should not be any significant surprises in the agreed principles.

For me, it's not about radical change but about what is distinctly Scottish in our system and asking is it working for us?

"We still have considerable international respect for our system, though we have maybe tried to do too much and lost focus at times.

"We have to look at consistency and keep an eye on delivery. Whatever is decided has to be deliverable and we need to learn lessons about change and the pace of change.

"Continuity, coherence and progression should be understood in the context of 3-18 plus.

"We have to ask what is meant by moving away from a content-led curriculum.

Content-led and subject-led are not the same thing. And the question will remain: is the proposed new curriculum deliverable? How will it impact on the classroom and the young people? There will be change but over a long period.

"There will always be a desire for qualifications, for certification, for profiling your attainment throughout life.

"We have more and more people staying on and returning to education. We have breadth in the curriculum, something distinctively Scottish, but we have to ask is there too much breadth? We've got to address that question."


Iain McMillan, director of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland

"The Scottish Executive's response to the national debate on education states that pupils should leave school 'ready for the world of work, training, college or university: literate and numerate; creative and skilled at solving problems; responsible and active members of society, considerate of others; ambitious, enterprising and confident, able to succeed in a world where they value others and are valued for themselves; and motivated to continue learning throughout life'. These points are absolutely critical for the curriculum steering group.

"If you are an employer, an admissions officer or a parent, this is what you want to see. We must not lose sight of these goals. We must action them. That would be good for pupils, parents, employers and for Scotland."


Brian Boyd, reader in education at the University of Strathclyde

"This review is potentially momentous in the history of Scottish education.

The last time the whole curriculum was reviewed was in 1946, the Advisory Council on Education report. It was never implemented but it anticipated developments such as comprehensive education.

"Looking at building a 21st century curriculum means regaining features lost in the past 25 years, like flexibility and creativity in learning and preparing people to be lifelong learners. The big challenge is to instill a love of learning. This takes us beyond exam culture into education for citizenship.

"Transition is problematic, especially from primary to secondary. I think the 10-14 middle schools notion addressed in the 1986 report Education 10-14 in Scotland, by the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum, deserves a revisit. We need more generalism in lower secondary and more specialism in upper primary, which means teachers teaching in both sectors.

We should be teachers first and primary or secondary teachers second.

"The review might mean there will be more people in the system other than teachers, such as classroom assistants and folk in the local community who can deliver skills or socialisation. We need to take down the walls of schools and put them back in the community.

"We'll certainly look at ideas from other countries, Norway, Finland and Tasmania, for example. It's about looking and debating, being creative and corrective to make our pupils global citizens."


Judith Gillespie, development officer of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council

"Schools don't do everything. Children only spend a proportion of their year at school. So we have to ask what we can and what we can not achieve in that time.

"I think there is a total misunderstanding of what schools are about. Schools are not responsible for everything and should not be held responsible for all of society's failures. We must identify the limits of schools in a child's development. Schools are not in loco parentis. Parents and schools work in partnership and neither should try to take on the other's role.

"Parents do the growing up bit. The child grows in the home environment whether there are schools or not. Schools are not responsible for the whole personality of the individual. There are other influences.

"Schools are there to give pupils knowledge and an idea of the range of knowledge available. Put another way, school is there to put in the technical bits that the child can't get without school.

"Certain basics, like literacy and numeracy, are always important. Schools were made compulsory in the 19th century to make society literate, to enable people to read and to make up their own minds. Literacy gives you the route into knowledge and knowledge is a powerful weapon. It allows understanding."


Mike Baughan, vice chair of the curriculum review group and chief executive of LT Scotland

"It is a wonderful and exciting opportunity to develop principles to underpin the curriculum from 3-18 for wider consultation.

"There is a general recognition that Scotland needs to look forward well into the 21st century, to identify and define the type of curriculum to equip our young people for the many challenges they will face. We need a relevant curriculum which will foster love of lifelong learning.

"The establishment of the review reflects a discomfort we have with arbitrary divisions related to age and stage. A seamless curriculum can only encourage continuity and progression of the learning experience.

"Learning should be fun and enjoyable. Pre-school children are full of wonder and their creativity is cherished. I'd like to see that joy retained throughout the education system.

"They don't have preconceptions that they can't do something. They're open to challenges and get superb satisfaction. We need to retain this in all young people.

"We also need to recognise that schools can't do everything a child needs for life. We need to focus on how to learn rather than just test a content-based curriculum. We need to teach young people to create, discriminate, sift and analyse and draw their own conclusions. Especially, given the vast quantity of information available in an electronic age, they need the skills to make use of that information."

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