Focus of criticism too much on schools

12th December 2008 at 00:00

A bit late in the day, I came across your "Science revisited" report of November 7. This covered two developments in the proposed science education curriculum.

The first was the intention to revise the science experiences and outcomes in response to strong criticism from an expert working group from the Royal Society of Edinburgh and feedback from teachers. So far, so good.

However, the same item also contained news of an HMIE report on science teaching in schools and warned that schools were falling far short of the expectations in adapting science teaching to A Curriculum for Excellence. It criticised poorly developed links between science and other parts of the curriculum, and legitimised a complaint from a pupil that "the teacher talks too much - we just have to listen" (shades of the "education as emotional literacy, not knowledge" approach, rightly criticised by Stuart Waiton in the same edition of The TESS). The report highlighted as good practice a science teacher dealing with pupils' poor literacy skills.

However, the timing of the HMIE report suggests that it was based on the original, soon-to-be-ditched-as-inadequate ACfE science outcomes, thus revealing very clearly that HMIE are the enforcers of Government policy, right or wrong. They are not independent assessors of good practice in education, comparable to the role played by their counterpart in prisons.

Indeed, anyone who has followed HMIE reports over the years will have noticed how the focus of their criticism of schools - and it is always schools, not governments - has changed as policy has changed. One of the clearest examples was the past, almost universal criticism of secondary schools for failing to "challenge" pupils enough in S1 and S2. The criticism was so common that any thinking person would have concluded it was a fault of the system, not the schools.

Nonetheless, schools responded by giving pupils more challenge, moving them on to Standard grade courses in S2 and presenting them for the exam a year earlier. Then the policy changed, and all these schools came in for severe criticism.

I think we need the inspector of prisons to turn his attention to schools.

Judith Gillespie, development manager, Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

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