New paradigm or emperor's new clothes?

25th May 2007 at 01:00
Lindsay Paterson's intervention in the debate on a Curriculum for Excellence is welcome (TESS, May 11). As a member of the review group which produced the report, I would like to respond to his main points.

First, it has been well received by the profession, but not because of "romantic child-centredness". Rather, teachers have become frustrated with an exam-dominated curriculum which, to use Lindsay's own phrase, has become "anti-intellectual".

Now, there is an invitation to teachers, exercising professional autonomy within guidelines, to engage with educational theory and ideas, to move from methodology to pedagogy and to focus on deep rather than surface learning.

Second, Lindsay's Calvinist view that most worthwhile human activity is for the most part unenjoyable is contestable. Those who promote development of thinking in Scottish classrooms are under no illusion that it is effortful - more so than the concentration on rote learning which characterises much of the exam preparation in secondaries. Promoting a view of learning where young people are engaged and stimulated, where they enjoy poetry, physics, music and learning itself, is surely worthwhile.

Third, inter-disciplinarity may well prove to be a fault-line for teachers.

The Queensland New Basics initiative is exciting interest in this country and early evidence suggests that, paradoxically, individual disciplines are strengthened because their contribution has to be made explicit.

Finally, I share Lindsay's concern about the implementation phase of A Curriculum for Excellence. The new levels are either completely arbitrary or a copy of the English model. The eight subject organisers have appeared as if from nowhere, and there is a danger that the system is closing in.

However, I remain optimistic that A Curriculum for Excellence will enable teachers to regain professional confidence; it could herald a new paradigm or turn out to be the emperor's new clothes.

Brian Boyd. Education faculty, Strathclyde University

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