Essential steps for excellence

17th September 2010 at 01:00

The TESS has long reported on outstanding practice in Scottish education. But there is a welcome feel to recent contributions, including examples of the ways young people are taking responsibility for their learning. Others point to changes in teaching approaches which reflect an understanding of the ways young people and teachers learn. The use of teacher-led learning communities to embed and sustain Assessment is for Learning (AiFL) and the use of communities of practice and teacher enquiry to improve learning and teaching also feature.

Having lived with the impact of so many curriculum initiatives, I empathise with the views of several contributors to The TESS that, when all the current practical issues with Curriculum for Excellence are resolved, we will have improved rather than transformed pupils' education.

Designing and implementing a curriculum, with coherence across content, pedagogy and assessment, are huge tasks. My reflections lead me to 10 conclusions.

1. The expectation of transformational change in schools must be reflected in similar supportive changes in local authorities, central government and linked agencies. This is a major challenge.

2. Central government and local authorities must move away from treating changes such as CfE as short-term initiatives supported with time-limited resources.

3. Curriculum design and development is demanding and difficult, so there must be opportunities to set up and sustain teacher-led learning communities, communities of practice and teacher enquiries to engage all stakeholders. These are critical to ensure more than "islands of excellence".

4. Unlike one TESS headteacher contributor, I think loads of well-designed curriculum materials are required to facilitate creative responses to pupil ideas, support motivating teaching approaches, make personalisation of learning a possibility and include lots of great strategies for delivering areas of the curriculum in real-life settings.

5. The principles and practice of AiFL must be at the core of CfE, actively supported and centrally-resourced. It is key to bringing real improvements in teaching and learning, but it is far from being a done deal.

6. A systematic, formative evaluation of the coherence across curriculum content, pedagogy and assessment is needed. Do they work together? Do we know?

7. We need to focus on developing and sustaining respect and trust across all levels and sectors. Collaborative, collegiate working, including strong integrated working among children's services, is vital to securing the changes in culture which are required to embed CfE successfully.

8. A new norm is required in which communities engage with schools in planning and delivering key aspects of the curriculum. In a transformational change, schools and early years establishments can't do it all on their own.

9. Reece High School in Tasmania has used the Essential Learnings Framework to plan and deliver education since 2005. The second to fourth- year curriculum is delivered in 15 blocks of 100 minutes, three blocks per day, each organised around four curriculum areas - integrated studies, health and well-being and a personalised programme in project-based learning and realising potential. We need to be clear that our organisation of pupils' time reflects and supports our CfE "essential learnings".

10. The TESS reported in 2007 on an international study which concluded that "well-intentioned school reforms have failed for decades - because they overlooked teachers". Nuff said!

John Cassidy is a former assistant director of education.

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