'Insane curriculum has to go'

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
A STRONG attack on the traditional school curriculum has been launched by one of Scotland's leading education researchers.

John MacBeath, head of the Quality in Education Centre at Jordanhill, cited the description from one expert that "the longest distance in the world is between an official state curriculum and what goes on in a child's mind".

Speaking to the local authorities' annual conference in Crieff, Professor MacBeath referred to the "three faces of insanity" in education - the intensification of teaching which wrongly assumes that more teaching leads to improved performance, education by measurement and the search for the mythical unicorn.

Professor MacBeath said even the Pacific Rim countries are beginning to realise pupils are held back by teaching and curriculum overload. "They have come to the conclusion that they are suffering from the over-taught student, people who are not independent or self-driven learners who can think for themselves and work in teams."

The QIE centre has just landed a two-year contract with Hong Kong to advise on school effectiveness in the secondary sector, building on the work Professor MacBeath pioneered with Peter Mortimore of the Institute of Education in London.

Setting out an agenda for a better educated Scotland, Professor MacBeath suggested it required new learning, new schools and new relationships.

He called for more attention to be paid to "deep learning", in particular applying lessons about how children learn and how the brain works.

This meant developing a closer understanding of children's "multiple intelligences", whether these are aesthetic, musical, mathematical, linguistic, interpersonal, spiritual or emotional.

Professor MacBeath cited the approach deployed by his colleague Matthew Boyle, who formerly taught at St Gerard's Secondary in Glasgow. He believed that it was when pupils admitted they were "stuck" that learning could really take off because the process of becoming "unstuck" deepened their understanding.

There was praise for the Government's reinforcement of school learning by funding out-of-school support, homework clubs, Easter and summer schools. The move towards community schools was also "very significant". These initiatives each represented "a recognition that attainment cannot be raised unless the combined needs of schools and families are addressed".

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