National identity and the curriculum;Comment;Opinion

23rd February 1996 at 00:00
The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum has been aware for some time that public interest in the Scottishness of the curriculum has been growing and today (Friday) sees the launch of the 5-14 Kist of Scottish materials. Earlier this year we instituted a review of Scottish history in the curriculum - age three to 18. The review group is as representative as we can make it. Teachers are the largest single group, but we also have academics, parents, individuals from industry and commerce and so on.

This group will first of all try to identify the main issues and sort out the problems which require attention. It will then consult extensively, formally and informally. In the light of these consultations it will begin to form its view and its conclusions. Before it reports back, however, it will test these views in another round of consultation. And after the council has received its final report, it will probably conduct its own round of consultation, including - if the past is to be our guide - convening a representative conference to give the matter in-depth attention.

In the middle of this year, a review will begin of Scottish culture and the Scottish school curriculum - broadening the issues and the focus from history to bring in matters of wider implication. We have planned the process so that the group will be able to build on the work of the Scottish History Review Group and our intention is that the two groups will be complementary and mutually supportive. The important thing is the participative and consultative nature of the process.

Take the Higher Still national development programme. It will become evident over the next few months that some parts of the programme will be delayed (although the overall schedule will not be affected) because the responses to those aspects of the programme in the latest round of consultation have been sharply critical. Consultation and partnership are taken very seriously.

Of course, only part of the reason for that is a commitment to the principle of consultation as a human value. There is also a clear - and very pragmatic Scottish - recognition that the nature of the process of education is such that if real improvement is to be sought then all must understand and agree how it is to be brought about.

The identity of a people lies in its culture not in its gene pool. No matter what happens to the political system within the UK or within Europe, nations are increasingly conscious of their own identity in a way which is increasingly respectful of that of others - valuing our differences. And I see the patterns of school provision and curricula reflecting these patterns of distinctiveness in a positive way.

I therefore see patterns of provision of language becoming increasingly bilingual, or multilingual, parallelled by an increasing confidence in national culture, literature and history. Curiously, while I see Scotland being widely recognised across Europe as providing a lead and example in many aspects of education and educational change, I also see that we have a particular problem with regard to our native languages, particularly Scots.

The Scottish CCC has a strategy for educational development which is distinctive and, we believe, distinctively Scottish; a strategy which, we hope, reflects the strengths, weaknesses, hopes and aspirations of our education system. We intend to build on our principles of partnership and consensus, and our view of the central role and importance of the teacher in the process of development in education. We intend to move away from a model of 15 years of inertia followed by five years of revolution, towards a situation where educational change is incremental, manageable and continuous.

Our line of development will emphasise the importance of values in the processes of education: both nationally, in the processes of curriculum design, and at school and classroom level. Our emphasis has not been on encouraging schools to draw up policy statements or implement guidelines in this regard. The evidence is that good schools and good teachers are those which not only know the language of values but which put them into practice.

Teaching is a complex and difficult task: we have objective measures which confirm this. We also know that there is nothing so important to the quality of experience of our young people in school as the quality of the teaching they experience there. We are fortunate in Scotland in the quality of our teaching force. And we intend to work in partnership with them to make good schools better.

A Scottish agenda for action? We think so.

Cameron Harrison is chief executive of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. This article is based on an extract from a talk he gave last week at the National Museum of Scotland.

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