Hitler - his part in ACfE

23rd October 2009 at 01:00

I have a poster of Adolf Hitler in my history classroom. It is captioned: "Responsible Citizen?". The irony amuses some of my colleagues and it puzzles my S1 classes, but the older students get the point, especially after they have studied the Higher history "German Nationalism" unit.

Lest this article end up on the desk of a German diplomat, let me say now that we only study the Nazis in Higher history and for a good reason: the development of the Third Reich is an object lesson and a warning to what can happen when evangelists andor self-seekers drive towards transformational change.

Perhaps you are beginning to understand the relevance of the title of this piece? The comparison came to me during a discussion at a recent meeting of my union's senior management committee, which comprises a dozen or so secondary heads and deputes and where the quality of discussion is always high - and, in this case, also worrying.

During the discussion on A Curriculum for Excellence, we learned that: authority A intends to treat secondary years 1-3 as a single stage in which 40 per cent of teaching will be delivered by inter-disciplinary projects taught by a maximum of eight teachers, leading to lessons being taught by secondary teachers who are not qualified to teach some subjects; authority B has given its secondary schools the freedom to develop the curriculum as they, or rather their headteachers, see fit.

Between these lie 30 other authorities, each developing its own approach.

Let me be clear: teachers need to be challenged and teaching methodologies need to be refreshed. Assessment is for Learning is an initiative associated with ACfE. It provides teachers with a timely reminder (if they had ever forgotten) that pupils learn best if they understand what they are intended to learn.

Other initiatives associated with ACfE, such as active learning and cooperative learning make a refreshing change from the normal three-part lesson fare. Similarly "rich tasks" and multi-disciplinary learning encourage pupils to look across subject boundaries to see the "bigger picture".

If ACfE had restricted itself to a focus on invigorating teaching and learning, its impact on secondary schools would have been wholly positive and beneficial. But the differences I've mentioned point to a growing danger that ACfE has become a runaway train.

Despite claims to the contrary, Scotland's secondary schools still evidence great strengths in particular areas, such as the preparation of pupils for national examinations. Now we learn from The TESS (October 2) that even this may be in danger, due to lack of clarity in the new qualifications framework.

To return to the comparison, historians are generally agreed that the traditional image of Nazi Germany as a monolithic totalitarian state is less than accurate. Rather, Germany was a chaotic society in which the evangelical enthusiasm of Hitler's underlings destroyed any vestiges of German liberal democracy.

Clearly our new curriculum cannot be compared with the horrors of the Nazi state, or its henchmen. Even so, the lack of clear national curriculum guidelines, married to the nebulous nature of the experiences and outcomes and now apparent confusion over the qualifications framework, may yet cause a similar level of destruction to Scotland's secondary school system.

Peter Wright is president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

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