Make room for new ideas

6th April 2007 at 01:00
Teaching is becoming more flexible and innovative, offering pupils a 'holistic view of learning'

EVIDENCE OF "remarkable" results from new approaches to teaching is beginning to emerge from primary schools, according to inspectors. But they say local authorities need to do more to support teachers in taking full advantage of the flexibility set out in A Curriculum for Excellence.

An interim report by HMIE, published last week, says there is widespread evidence of innovation and a "growing eagerness" among staff to use teaching time more flexibly, although many still lack confidence to move beyond structured study programmes.

Local authorities have taken "significant initial steps" to support schools' development of the curriculum, with almost all appointing an officer to lead and monitor changes in primaries. Several have provided opportunities for schools to work with "leading thinkers" on new approaches, such as collaborative learning or critical skills, helping pupils to link different subjects and to take more responsibility for their own learning.

On the downside, while local authorities have linked ACfE with other initiatives such as Deter-mined to Succeed and Assessment is for Learning to create a "holistic view of learning", few have issued guidance on how to use curricular flexibility.

Primary schools traditionally were supposed to have 20 per cent flexibility time over each session to "do their own thing" with pupils. Following ACfE, however, HMIE will judge schools, not on the specific time they spent on a specific curriculum area, but according to how effectively they used their time to develop the four capacities for pupils set out in the curriculum reforms - becoming successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society.

Of 28 schools visited for the report, most were using flexibility time to raise attainment in English and maths, but numeracy was "less extensively or imaginatively developed" than literacy, HMIE found.

In the highest-achieving schools, English language was being developed in a variety of ways - for example, by debating with local politicians, or setting poems to music, while writing tasks involved reports on science experiments or poetry about the Holocaust.

Maths, meanwhile, saw pupils carrying out surveys of friends' eatings habits in health promotion work, or market research for an enterprise topic.

The report stresses, however, that cross-curricular work involving numeracy was often not challenging enough. "Teachers sometimes set low-level tasks or accepted mediocre written work about, for example, health promotion or religious and moral education where pupils had proved themselves capable of producing work of a much higher standard," it said.

The inspectors also noted that, while many schools were developing skills in citizenship and respect for others, this was frequently restricted to individual enterprise projects or Eco Schools Scotland activities. It added: "Few schools developed pupils' awareness of Scotland's place in the world or their ability to engage in political and economic life. Pupils' development of informed, ethical views about issues and their knowledge about rights and responsibilities was often limited."

A number of examples of good practice were detailed, with the most successful learners those who were able to organise their own learning. In one school, for example, pupils were asked to learn French words and phrases. They all achieved what they were asked to do in a variety of ways.

Some downloaded vocabulary onto their MP3 players, while another used the "look, cover, write, check" technique learned in English lessons.

Staff in another school reviewed the curriculum against the four capacities of ACfE, which led to pupils setting up a cafe. This encouraged cross-curricular work by allowing them to cost and prepare food, while listening and speaking skills were addressed in group discussions about advertising. In dealing with the public, pupils learned about presentation and interpersonal skills.

Another school approached ACfE by planning "Focus Fridays", in which a number of curricular areas were studied through a specific slant, such as health education or enterprise. The whole school took part, working in mixed-age groups. This led to an energy and enthusiasm for learning, described in the report as "remarkable".

The full report is due to be published before the summer, after which a national conference will be convened to mull over the issues.

Flexible curriculum p8

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