It's all too much;Curriculum

12th February 1999 at 00:00
Environmental studies is regarded by critics as a multi-headed monster. A national consultation on the subject that embraces science, technology, history, geography, health education and IT has attracted 3,000 responses. As the findings go to a 5-14 review committee this month, Raymond Ross asks what teachers think

Isobel Hutchon, headteacher, Auchtermuchty Primary, Fife "The environmental studies curriculum is overcrowded, too prescriptive and lacking in flexibility.

Knowledge is now so readily accessible that class time should be concentrated on teaching children to think, organise, analyse and use the technology.

P1 and P2 should have no prescriptive environmental studies but teachers should instead be free to concentrate on skills, matching the context to children's needs and interests.

Teachers' professionalism must be recognised; young children need more time for learning to read and write and to discover the joy of learning; science would be best taught as a separate unit; children should be taught how to think for themselves."

John Roy, headteacher, Cockenzie Primary, East Lothian "The guidelines must avoid making life even more difficult for the non-specialist primary teacher, particularly in upper primary science and technology.

The guidelines contain too much for the time available. In an educational era of ever-increasing complexity, teachers need guidelines that can be implemented easily and seamlessly."

Ellen Turner, assistant rector, Alloa Academy, Clackmannanshire "The 5-14 document is too large and complex. The suggested split into three, more manageable, areas - science, social studies and technology - is welcome.

It is better to focus, with agreement between the secondary school and cluster primaries, on ensuring continuity and progression, with particular emphasis on the P6 to S2 stages, possibly using a core plus extension approach. This can concentrate efforts on developing skills as much as specific content.

Given the Government's commitment to the National Grid for Learning, surely information and communications technology should have its own subject document."

Emma Boag, classteacher, Curriehill Primary, Edinburgh "Expecting teachers to meet the goals for information and communications technology, when each classroom has only one or two computers, is unrealistic. Each school should have a computer lab, where a whole class can be taught at once, or an auxiliary who can assist with the class while the teacher spends time with a small group on the class computer.

Each school must have a technician to sort out computer-related problems."

Norman Dodds, headteacher, Duns Primary, Scottish Borders "For children, learning about environmental studies 5-14 is like going for a Mediterranean cruise on a high-speed motor boat. You might see Rome for an instant as you flash past but you certainly won't have time to land and take in the sights.

Teachers also struggle to make sense of this complex and vast scheme of work and its associated bureaucracy. In previous times they would enjoy researching a new topic and would be enthusiastic and eager to get to work.

Now, preparation time is spent planning, to make sure every key feature is covered and every bullet point is hit. Recording pupil progress is just as onerous and time-consuming. Hardly a recipe for inspirational teaching.

Class teachers must be allowed to work to their strengths and interests.

If we can find a way to put the joy back into teaching, the joy of learning may follow."

Maria Crocker, headteacher, Mauchline Primary, East Ayrshire "Progression through the levels of each strand is wordy and open to interpretation and provides no clear guidance. More specific content is needed.

Assessment of environmental studies is unmanageable and unrealistic. There are too many strands and they need to be simplified.

Some environmental studies subjects demand high levels of knowledge and expertise from staff and pupils, and the content is too wide. More realistic expectations of content should be introduced at upper primary.

In fairness, the 5-14 guidelines have provided a much-needed focus for subjects and skills, taking away the all-singing, all-dancing topic approach."

Helen Ross, headteacher, Melrose Grammar School (primary), Scottish Borders "The curriculum for environmental studies has been strengthened since the 5-14 guidelines were introduced. The main difficulty lies in their sheer breadth and volume.

Trying to develop a consistent and progressive whole-school programme with appropriate assessment and recording procedures has proved difficult. A clearer outline of content and progression through the knowledge and understanding strand would help.

Giving it the recommended 25 per cent of the timetable in the early years is difficult - reducing this percentage would allow some flexibility."

Jack Degnan, headteacher, Rockfield Primary, Oban, Argyll and Bute "There are too many components. It would be better to be based on social subjects only, with the other components as discrete subjects.

Too much time is allocated to environmental studies. Ten per cent would be more realistic for social subjects, with five per cent for the other components.

Planning is difficult. At the P7-S2 end, this becomes a trade-off of topics to be taught between primary and secondary. It would be better done in 5-14 levels, as in other curricular areas.

More direction would be welcome. The review group should be more specific about what should be taught at each level."

Colin Mitchell, headteacher, Dumries High, Dumfries and Galloway "Secondary staff have willingly met primary colleagues to discuss course progression and continuity, but arriving at a coherent picture is difficult from multiple primary schools of varying size.

The complex assessment of strands has caused major frustration, with little or no local or national advice of practical value.

Any changes must be supported with practical advice and realistic funding."

John Wood, assistant headteacher, Firrhill High, Edinburgh "Statements on learning intentions (what the pupil should be able to do at the end of the learning process) tend to be nebulous and open-ended. This makes assessment difficult.

If statements were made more specific and exemplified, we could measure or - dare I say it - test attainment more objectively.

Exposing pupils to courses that have levels built in at the planning stage must not lead to the assumption that, once the course has been completed, levels have been achieved.

I often observe teachers delivering lessons at all stages from S1 to S6. At Standard grade, Higher and Certificate of Sixth Year Studies, it is always easy to make reference to the actual point in the syllabus the teacher is following. Not so in 5-14. Several references have to be made and even then there are doubts.

In a culture of raising attainment the teacher should be able to communicate expectations clearly and there should be a clearly identifiable standard of performance throughout.

If individual clusters of schools are left to interpret and "flesh out" 5-14 environmental studies, a national comparison of attainment standards would seem impossible."

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