Greater structure and support are needed in schools, but not in my sock drawer

23rd December 2011 at 00:00
The senior phase element of Curriculum for Excellence and storing my sundries are both proving stressful

Beside my bed is a two-drawer unit containing an assortment of socks and sundry items. Last week, someone organised them. Instead of the usual tumble of cotton, there were Ikea separators marshalling items into colour-coded pens, where they sat, neatly folded, waiting to be utilised.

I was discombobulated. Generally I like precision and organisation. I can't leave my classroom at the end of the day without pushing in all the seats, straightening the books on the library shelf, and closing the windows. But the drawers seemed too much - as if a last secret place of carefree chaos had been removed.

Taking the dividers out seemed unnecessarily destructive, now that they were there. It has been a genuine dilemma - structure or free spirit?

Another issue that has been exercising me has been the senior phase element of Curriculum for Excellence. I became aware of two active proposals that reveal a fairly basic misunderstanding of the whole programme: one was to present a future S3 cohort for National 4 and 5 qualifications (early presentation) and the second was to present pupils in S4 for the same qualifications, having started their courses in S3 to ensure the notional 160 hours indicated by SQA (Standard grade arrangements with different qualifications).

Both ignore the key purpose of S3 as a culmination of a three-year process and the starting point for mapping out pupil journeys through the senior phase. Admittedly, it is difficult for that S3 experience to be grasped, as it is yet to happen, but it is essential that it is seen as the final stage of a broad general education charged with delivering the depth and breadth of learning pupils deserve, prior to embarking on qualification routes.

CfE S3 represents the biggest change to our secondary model and it is a huge challenge. Offering pupils year one of our current Standard grade courses won't be acceptable. Building on the S12 experience, therefore, in a different way and utilising the experiences and outcomes will take detailed planning; it is likely to produce the biggest workload to date for schools in its implementation (one reason why attempting to prepare for the new qualifications at the same time is foolhardy).

What is needed, perhaps, is a bit more leadership from Scottish Government and the CfE board. CfE has not been a centrally driven, top-down model, quite rightly, but that does not mean it should not be led. There appears to be a certain drift at the moment and yet the clock is ticking. In little over 24 school weeks, S2 will become S3.

Schools need more support and some clear direction - some organisers, perhaps. Confusion in a sock drawer may induce a sense of cosiness but in matters educational some structure is essential.

Larry Flanagan is education convener for the EIS.

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