From draft to classroom by August
Teachers are expected to be following the new Curriculum for Excellence by the start of next session, delegates to the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association were warned last week.
The Government expects schools to adopt the new curriculum by August, but many of the draft guidelines remain "puzzling", Alan Taylor, a member of the national qualifications steering group, told his union's annual congress in Peebles.
Delegates were unanimous that, despite the "flowery rhetoric", the curriculum lacked substance without the materials, training or funding to implement it, and the majority backed a motion accusing the Government of paying "lip service to the need for meaningful consultation with the teaching profession".
Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop told the conference that one of the 15 key national outcomes in the concordat between local and national government was "delivery of A Curriculum for Excellence". That meant local authorities were obliged to make it happen, she said.
Some teachers complained of too much central direction; others of too little. "You can't please all of the people, all of the time," she added.
Ms Hyslop issued a challenge to teachers - individually and collectively - to become fully engaged champions of ACfE. "Effective curriculum reform must come from schools and teachers, not officials or education theorists. It is teachers who are best placed to meet the needs of individual learners and you are all key to the success of A Curriculum for Excellence," she said.
Mr Taylor, principal teacher of modern languages at Brannock High in Motherwell, told The TESS that he was not against the principles of ACfE, but believed the practicalities were ill-thought out.
"The government people on the national qualifications steering group think the new curriculum is well on the way in schools . They expect schools to begin some kind of implementation potentially from August, probably for S1," he said.
He questioned the Government's rationale for its new exam and curriculum structure, replacing Standard grade and Intermediate 1 and 2 with a new exam, giving more able pupils the option to bypass it and go straight to studying Highers in S4.
The brightest and best pupils did not need double the time to study a Higher course, Mr Taylor said. Getting rid of the "two-term dash" was welcome, but "What will we do with two whole years?" He dismissed the idea of a possible winter diet: "We consulted on that two or three years ago and rejected it."
Delegates complained of insufficient consultation over the exam reforms, compared with the "tremendous consultation" that took place before Standard grades came on stream 20 years ago.
It was not enough to have the draft experiences and feedback forms for ACfE online, said Mr Taylor. Hard copies should be delivered to every school. But he urged teachers to respond to the draft guidelines. "This is your opportunity to say what you think. If you don't, you will simply get what you deserve."
- SSTA delegates called for urgent action to support pupils who do not speak English as their first language.
Albert McKay, a past president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, argued that "ad-hoc sticking plaster approaches prevail" in secondaries, in place of "appropriate and well-resourced support". His call on the Scottish Government and authorities to develop "a clear and workable strategy" to help and support pupils won unanimous backing.
Some 15,000 pupils in Scottish schools have English as an additional language and 3,500 have had no previous, meaningful contact with English, he said.
Anne O'Kane said in Fife, pupils requiring language support had quadrupled in five years, yet staffing had been cut by 12 per cent. Given the "paucity of existing resources", children's needs were not being met.
- Donald Murray, English teacher in Shetland
He intends to respond to the draft "experiences and outcomes" for his subject - if he has time. He thinks that smaller authorities will struggle more than larger ones to implement A Curriculum for Excellence.
"We have a much smaller pool of teachers to draw upon than they do in the centre," he said.
- Janine McCullough, Maths teacher at a school for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in South Lanarkshire
She has already fed into the consultation process for her subject. She believes that her school is ideally placed to make A Curriculum for Excellence work.
"We already have to make every resource ourselves. Some of our pupils are behind because they have missed a lot of school. It would be insulting to present them with primary textbooks containing colourful cartoons."
- Ian Dick, Principal teacher of English in Dundee
He will respond, along with his department, before the end of term. However, he dislikes the question and answer format of the feedback form.
"It seems as if the questionnaire is leaning towards certain answers; I want to be freer than that."
The lack of detail contained in the draft guidance is also a problem, he feels.
"Other major developments like Higher Still, revised Higher and Standard grade all came with materials."
There is a danger, he said, that teachers will just make the resources they already have fit ACfE.
- Margo McAllister, Geography teacher in South Ayrshire
She has not yet responded to the outcomes and experiences for her subject. Geography teachers in her area will be coming together to respond as a group, she says.
She feels the outcomes and experiences are "vague". "It's very brief what's there - there's really not a lot of detail. When you look at 5-14, at least there were levels."
- Rob Hands, Principal teacher of geography in Perth and Kinross
He has responded to the draft experiences and outcomes for his subject and is disappointed that the response had to be so negative. But having accessed them online, he feels they are "too vague to really operate as curriculum planning documents".
He also points out that there should have been "intensive continuing professional development" for teachers to demonstrate how the new curriculum might work in schools. More important than subject content, if you want to engender change, he says, is "developing learning strategies for young people".