One of Labour's key policy advisers has launched a scathing attack on the organisation of the curriculum in the first two years of secondary school. Brian Boyd, associate director of the Quality in Education Centre at Strathclyde University, said: "What passes for the curriculum is well nigh farcical."
Dr Boyd said the drive to improve attainment for all was being hampered by departmentalism, the promoted post structure, union intransigence and outdated conditions of service. The current structure was devised to solve the problems of the 1960s and reform of the curriculum from primary 6 to the second year of secondary school was urgently needed.
"Problem-solving is the biggest joke in 5-14: sums with words," he told the Association of Educational Advisers in Scotland in Dundee.
When pupils were asked about their early experience in secondary they said they liked school and the variety of new things. "But they do not think anybody cares about what they do or have done before. They are not challenged, and maths departments come out time and again in that. They are not really valued as people. They are undervalued," Dr Boyd said.
Many of the difficulties in the later years of secondary were related to the lack of preparation during the transition from primary to secondary. However, Dr Boyd insisted the lack of challenge was "not a stick to beat teachers with" and the Government's advocacy of setting would not provide the solution. Teachers were often struggling to cope in large classes and with a lack of resources and the continued commitment of secondary staff was in question.
"The reason why, seven years into the 5-14 programme, most science and technology aspects are at the awareness stage is because it challenges the very fabric of the way schools are organised," Dr Boyd said.
Part of the answer, he suggested, may have to include a restructuring of the school day, week or year to avoid taking teachers out of the classroom. "There is not enough time in the system for staff development and planned activity time is withering on the vine in some authorities," Dr Boyd said. "Let's get rid of PAT and chip a bit out of the school holidays. Let's look at quality time. There may not be an awful uproar if teachers were to trade off a bit of that time."
Professional development should be an obligation on teachers, Dr Boyd said, but it should be negotiated at school level.