It's your chance to shape learning

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
The review of the curriculum should be an opportunity to reverse the "learned helplessness" of teachers, a chance for them to act creatively and shape the curriculum.

Sheena Devlin, headteacher of Dumbarney primary in Perth and Kinross, who is on secondment to the Scottish Executive Education Department, last week told a series of conferences for heads of primary and special schools that the review represented the most significant time of change in Scottish education for a generation.

Ms Devlin said: "We are very good as a profession at identifying the problems. Now is the time to be heard coming up with some of the solutions as well."

Chris McIlroy, a leading member of the inspectorate, also urged schools to seize the new opportunities. Streamlined courses should give teachers and headteachers "a set of learning outcomes that really do set out the key things that matter, getting rid of some of the detail and prescription and leaving much more space for headteachers and teachers to work with", Mr McIlroy said.

But he warned that there would be a greater emphasis on the enhanced professional role of teachers and headteachers. "You will be given more space - but it has got to be used well. The fundamental focus is on improving learning and teaching," he said.

His advice was: "Keep good practice alive and try to use more space in the curriculum to make the adjustment to bring back some of the very good things which we have slightly lost sight of in recent years."

HMIE would be keeping an eye on how heads were organising the curriculum and how they used existing flexibility in the curriculum to move forward - but this would done in "a low-key way" in the early days, he pledged.

In her rallying call to the profession to cast aside years of passive acceptance of curricular developments, Ms Devlin said: "You may not feel you have any major influence on this important part in all our lives. We need to model the four capacities (outlined in A Curriculum for Excellence) - confident individuals, successful learners, effective contributors and responsible citizens - in all we do and how we work.

"If we want our young people to be effective contributors and confident individuals, then we must lead by example."

Ms Devlin told the Glasgow-based conference, which followed similar events in Inverness and Edinburgh: "One of the attributes of being an effective contributor is resilience. Headteachers have to be resilient, particularly if they have to weather the storms created recently in some of the national press."

She urged: "Seize this opportunity to shape the curriculum of the future.

Think and act creatively in your own setting. Be part of the solution to the issues raised in the national debate and those that will arise as the review progresses."

Ms Devlin warned, however: "It is important that schools don't become too focused on mechanical implementation of the curriculum and lose sight of the purposes and principles behind the review."

In expressive arts, for instance, proposals were emerging to make better use of outside arts professionals and specialists during the increasing number of non-class contact hours in the school week.

She said: "The arts should be integrated in a meaningful way - such as in a musical production, having pupils involved in drama, music, design and set scenery, posters, scripting. This is not a new way of working - it was a regular feature for many primary schools, but it has probably taken a back seat as schools have had to become more focused on the attainment agenda.

"I really feel we have now an opportunity with A Curriculum for Excellence to push the pendulum not all the way back but to a more sensible and balanced position."

Looking back to the Primary Memorandum of 40 years ago and to a post-memorandum survey in 1974, Mr McIlroy, chief inspector with responsibility for primary, said it had revealed a wide range of practice.

The time teachers spent teaching grammar ranged from zero to 6.5 hours per week; and one teacher reported watching more than six hours of television a week with her class.

The introduction of the 5-14 guidelines had sought to solve the problems of a lack of consistency and pupil entitlement across schools, a lack of structures to support progression, a lack of emphasis on attainment and some confused "child-centred" approaches to methodology.

But, Mr McIlroy acknowledged, the 5-14 guidelines had created "unrealistic expectations about assessment" - that every teacher would assess every child's progress across all levels of attainment and all areas of the curriculum.

"It can't be done," Mr McIlroy said. "I have never met a teacher yet, while on inspections across Scotland for the past 15 years, who can do it. One of the things we have been good at in education is asking people to do things that can't be done - it makes them feel anxious and inadequate. We have to get a much more realistic set of expectations about assessment, and Assessment is for Learning is much more helpful."



* How can we provide engaging, challenging and relevant experiences for all pupils?

* Reducing content by producing a prioritised and simplified set of curricula at all levels.

* Ensuring a better balance between the development of scientific knowledge and science for citizenship.

* Devising a mechanism for continuously updating and reforming the curriculum.

* Supporting all of the above with effective in-service training.


* Children at all stages need to develop a capacity to solve problems in a variety of contexts - this requires a change in emphasis from what is taught to how it is taught and how children learn.

* Children should be provided with regular opportunities to work together, to discuss approaches to solving problems in a variety of contexts, some of which may be unfamiliar.

* New organisation of number, shape and space, patterns and relationships, information handling and solving problems.

* Current content under information handling will be fundamentally reviewed and updated to ensure that pupils are equipped to gather, analyse and present data using technology to meet the needs of modern society.

* Some mathematical content currently in 5-14 guidelines will be realigned, in particular, shape, position and movement.

Expressive arts

* When considering learning and teaching opportunities, both within and beyond expressive arts, establishments and staff will need to look beyond their own expertise and resources. Schools should make best use of the strengths and interests of individual staff members.

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