Editor's comment

6th March 2009 at 00:00

Readers seeking a break from the spin and counter-spin surrounding A Curriculum for Excellence will not find much of a hiding place in this week's issue. We do not apologise. It is difficult to ignore reforms not just of the curriculum, but also of assessment and qualifications, which are billed as "the most significant in a generation."

Lindsay Paterson (p1 and 4) is right to expose some of the sloppy thinking around learning, although his criticisms are about "fashionable orthodoxies" in education in general, not just the new curriculum. We're not sure, however, who his culprits are. Certainly, David Cameron, who leads the directors of education, and Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector, are on record as supporters of the "hard slog" school: that learning is about grasping the fundamentals, that it can be difficult and that solving problems is essential to true understanding. Taking the easy route is a disservice to students and amounts to patronising them.

And there has to be "knowledge transfer" - from teachers confident in their discipline to pupils enthused to receive it. Professor Paterson's comments on the mismatch between teachers' confidence in their own abilities and pupils' scores, particularly in international tables, need further investigation. Is it the teachers who are below standard, the pupils who have little pre-disposition to learn - or the nature of the tests themselves?

The increasing reluctance of youngsters to engage with schools in a wired world, where knowledge is easily on tap, challenges education reformers to make learning more and more attractive. This runs the risk of turning into the "learning is fun" school. The truth is that, while there are tensions in Professor Paterson's six "orthodoxies," they should not be irreconcilable: students must be given a sense of achievement but that should not preclude them from being given authentic challenges, for example. We just need good, if not excellent, teaching to bring it about.

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