Fewer exams at heart of learning

15th June 2007 at 01:00
Eric Wilkinson's claim in your report last week on Kirkcudbright Academy that A Curriculum for Excellence is "outmoded" is a strange one on at least two counts.

First, it is difficult to see how it can be outmoded when it is in an early stage of its development and, as Bernard McCleary suggested in another report last week, it should be making an impact in schools.

Second, Eric seems to think that ACfE "has set its face completely against early presentation for Standard grade". The report did not mention early presentation; it was not part of the remit of the review group.

I am a supporter of A Curriculum for Excellence and a sceptic as far as early presentation for Standard grade is concerned. I am aware that some schools have had success in pupil attainment in S3, and have used the time released in S4 and S5 with ingenuity to the benefit of the pupils.

However, examination-led learning is, in the main, superficial learning, with undue emphasis on past papers and exam technique. My preference is for understanding to be at the heart of the process, that is deep learning and metacognition. Currently, the closer pupils and teachers get to exams, the more understanding becomes a luxury. Early presentation moves this situation earlier in the young person's school career.

There is a sense in which the underlying philosophy of ACfE does point in the direction of deep rather than surface learning and, to that extent, Eric is probably right to see a possible conceptual conflict with early presentation. There should be fewer examinations, releasing more time for teachers to become the kinds of learners who will be able to handle the unknown as well as the known and who may have enough positive experiences of school to persuade their pupils to become lifelong learners.

This is a welcome debate and one on which consensus may not be achieved.

But let's not blame A Curriculum for Excellence for that.

Brian Boyd Faculty of Education, Strathclyde University

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