Looking for the future
I have no crystal ball to help me visualise what the daily experiences of pupils in a secondary school will be like well into this first century of a new millennium. That is the stuff of science-fiction. We could create interesting scenarios for the provision of education in the year 2050 - 100 years on from the time I entered primary school in Dumfries, when I remember using a slate and slate-pencil to form my first letters. In those days, the National Grid for Learning meant the innovation of squared paper in jotters.
But, instead of looking 50 years ahead, let's examine the curriculum that might be experienced by a child conceived in the excitement of the millennium celebrations. Our millennium baby will enter pre-school education in 2003, primary school in 2005, and secondary school in 2012. What is he or she likely to encounter?
Well, the personal interaction between teacher and pupils will remain at the heart of education, just as it did in Athens over 2,000 years ago.
Having said that, there will be important changes opened up by our use of technology - a projection of 12 years into the future represents generations of technological development. In 1969, the Bellis report on computers and schools said each school could be guaranteed access to computers either by having its own computer or sharing centralised computing facilities.
The first option was "virtually ... ruled out in terms of cost". In 1979 there were 20 "microcomputers" in Scottish secondary schools, in 1987 were over 8,000 (at least 12 per school), and in 2000 there are 60,000.
It is reasonable to predict that within the decade each pupil will have access to a computer which is the product of divergence between mobile phone and laptop, offering wireless linkage to internet and intranet sites from school or home.
The new body to be formed in July from the merger of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and the Scottish Council for Educational Technology will face the challenge of creating a Scottish Curriculum Bank in partnership with local authorities, teachers, and commercial enterprises, including experts in computer games design.
With ICT, pupils can access teachers worldwide. The "school without boundaries" is already a reality for growing numbers of pupils in Scotland who engage in flexible learning, being taught with pupils hundreds of miles away on courses not available in their own schools.
If we are serious about preparing pupils for independent, lifelong learning, we need to reassess the curriculum in terms of the opportunities it offers pupils to use ICT and to adopt learning styles appropriate for them as individuals.
ICT also opens up new methods of tracking and recording pupil progress, creating individual education records that map out prior achievements, development needs and next stages. Records can be interactive, accessible to pupils, teachers and parents, easily updated and monitored from home.
ICT can include those who can not or will not attend school.
The concept of a lock-step, age and stage-related curriculum begins to look outdated in the light of what ICT and a unitary system of qualifications will enable us to provide for the next generation.
Improving quality in education is central to Scotland's economic competitiveness and to the social inclusion agenda. Education is the pathway to employment, so there will be a continuing focus on enabling pupils to acquire appropriate qualifications.
There will be a focus on a range of skills including communication, numeracy, ICT, problem solving and working with others.
The modal framework to ensure a broad and balanced curriculum for all has been helpful, but a number of factors encourage us to look again at how we might organise the curriculum: the development of a unitary system of certification leading to a range of Scottish Group Awards; the emphasis on core skills; the need to help pupils make connections between fields of knowledge; and the opportunities for flexible progression routes matched to individual needs.
The Scottish Executive's consultation paper, Improving Our Schools, set out the Government's vision of education as ensuring that young people are self-confident, highly-motivated and well-rounded; literate and numerate; enterprising and able to grasp opportunities; able to work flexibly and open to challenges.
It is essential for parents, teachers, pupils and the wider community to have a shared understanding of the rationale and goals that underpin the curriculum.
The rigidly prescriptive "one model fits all" has shifted to a more flexible provision with clearly defined progression routes that take account of individual pupil circumstances.
An effective headteacher will develop a shared sense of purpose that influences how a school shapes its curriculum, using the flexibility afforded by national guidelines.
The questions we need to ask are pretty basic, such as * Is the curriculum we offer relevant to our pupils?
* Will they experience challenge and success?l Does it provide experiences that contribute to personal growth and active citizenship?l Is it an education for work as we envisage it in the 21st century?
Most would agree that pupils should experience a broad and balanced curriculum, and that it should offer progression and certification of achievement, but should that always be through Standard grade?
The Scottish CCC has established a review group on the nature and aims of education for citizenship, and what it will look like in practice.
The importance of schools in equipping young people for citizenship has become increasingly explicit in curriculum documentation.
The education Bill includes a clause reflecting the Scottish Executive's commitment to promoting motivation, confidence and citizenship. If pupils are to participate in an informed way, we need to reassess how the school develops social responsibility.
Last month's HMI report on Education for Work in Schools praises good practice. Education for work is now central to the curriculum. It helps pupils to see school as having purpose and relevance, and to recognise the need to develop core skills which promote employability.
Clear connections can be made between education for work, education for citizenship and for personal and social development. There is joined up thinking here.
Our millennium baby will face many challenges. The concept of a single job for life will be a strange notion. People will need to be flexible, creative and entrepreneurial. They will need to be multi-skilled and apply the core skills embedded in the curriculum.
If our millennium baby is to face a secure future in Scotland, we need to develop companies that can compete with the world's best, in a Scotland that is tolerant, inclusive and outward-looking.
That is the challenge facing us when we design the future curriculum - a future that will see an individualised curriculum with personalised learning plans and targets; flexible systems to provide constant opportunity and personal challenge; fluidity and merging boundaries between modes and subjects; skills and capabilities; individual progression routes; devolved responsibility along with self-evaluation; enterprise and creativity; and partnerships and outreach.
Developing our pupils as rounded people and active members of the community is at the heart of what schools are about now - and in the future.
In modern jargon, that is our core business. To achieve it, we need committed teachers who are well rewarded and whose opportunities for continuous professional development are secure in their terms and conditions.
Edited version of paper given at this month's Headteachers' Association of Scotland conference