Mind the gap

13th July 2007 at 01:00
The past 40 years in Scottish education have seen a journey from the Primary Memorandum, the teachers' "bible" for the 1960s and 70s, to the 5-14 guidelines, with its levels and strands giving a more prescriptive approach to teaching and learning.

We now have A Journey to Excellence from HMIE. Content, while remaining of importance, will not be the be-all and end-all of the new curriculum. Or, as Richard Teese of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in praise of A Curriculum for Excellence (TESS, March 30): "It starts off with the right question not just 'what should we teach?', but 'what kind of child do we want?'"

Yet, despite the efforts in these guidelines to improving continuity and progression from primary to secondary (and now from pre-school to P1), solutions have eluded us.

Over the past 35 years, I have attended more conferences and been on a larger number of working groups on the subject than I can recall. We have looked at sharing resources, joint curricular planning and simultaneous continuing professional development, to mention but a few. But even if we factor in the discontinuity in teaching styles, the structure of the school day and the biological turbulence of adolescence, there are no easy answers.

I had hoped ACfE would helped. But, while the early level commendably spans pre-school to Primary 1 (with the latter having to adjust to more structured play, for example), the second level stops at P7, and the third covers S1 to S3, with no proposals for change in content and methodology at transition.

In my view, this could prove to be an opportunity missed.

The 5-14 levels D to F were meant to aid transition, but few secondary teachers took them seriously, at least in terms of national assessment levels. As teachers become familiar with the evolving ACfE, I am sure they too will wonder why this artificial wall between the second and third levels is being proposed.

The issue of transition between primary and secondary has not been highlighted to any great extent by many at the ACfE conferences that I have attended. Teachers have been advised that there will be no "final" tablet of stone from on high to guide staff.

But if we do not pay attention to this important gap, the goal of "excellent" may be downgraded to "very good", or perhaps only "good", by researchers of the future.

John Muir

Quality development officer

Highland Council

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