How we learned to be cynical ... the tough way

31st March 2000 at 01:00
WE WAITED all summer to hear what the new curriculum 2000 would bring.

When it finally appeared we were pleased. Here was a better deal for students, emphasising things neglected in the dark years of stringent efficiency gains.

Not only could we offer a broader curriculum but we would now be able to recognise key skills as well as knowledge and vocational awareness.

We could do more and do it better. We set up task groups to develop key skills. We took the harder road of integrating key skills into mainstream delivery, rather than the easier option of teaching them separately. We developed an ambitious support programme that allowed students individual access to workshops and to materials that would enable them to demonstrate key skills.

We launched an exciting "enrichment" programme, that would enhance students' enjoyment of college, and help them practise their wider key skills.

We were optimistic. It was hard work but there was a bright new world before us. When we flagged we looked again at the advantages of the new curriculum. We renewed efforts to work with our partner schools. We talked excitedly at open evenings of all that would be on offer to our students - and they believed us!

We held a major conference with prominent speakers. It was a great success. The local press lauded or efforts.

We trusted that if we carried out the tasks prescribed for us we would be rewarded. Not with a crock of gold but with sufficient funding to realise our plans.

We waited all winter for news of the funding. Then the answer came: only half of our new students were expected to benefit from the changes.

But our approach had never been half-hearted. How could we deliver the old model to some students whilst presenting others with the latest one? How could we square this with our commitment to equality and equal access?

So we squealed and shouted. We rang our friends in high places and rallied our forces to protest at this betrayal of trust. The central powers seemed surprised that we'd taken them so seriously. They have said they will see what they can do to find us some more money.

Now we wait for the spring, hoping that they will match our belief in the new curriculum with the funding to deliver it; that they will understand that the bargain was always meant to be something for something, not something for nothing.

But we have become wiser and now realise that we should always keep a touch of cynicism. Perhaps we had deluded ourselves that this time it would be different. But who knows? Maybe it will.

The author is principal of John Ruskin College, in South Croydon

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