No place for elitism in CfE

23rd April 2010 at 01:00

Lindsay Paterson's critique of Mike Russell's statement on Curriculum for Excellence ("Reforms need plain speaking", April 9) is welcome. I disagree with almost every aspect of it, but at least it flushes out the main thrust of the opposition to Curriculum for Excellence.

It appears that a new elitism stalks Scottish education. A lack of confidence in primary teachers' ability to provide pupils with a solid basis for specialisms is coupled with a misplaced confidence in subject specialists' ability to engage learners in deep learning. This seems to have led Lindsay to propose that there should be more "specialist leadership" in primaries. My question is simple: where is the evidence?

CfE is, in essence, about trust in teachers, primary and secondary. No longer do they need to be told, from the centre, what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it, in what order to teach it and for how many minutes a week to teach it.

Nor should they be constrained by subjects or disciplines, mere social constructs as they are. Inter-disciplinary learning is not a threat; it is an opportunity - to make connections, to make explicit the contribution of subjects to inter-disciplinary approaches to global warming, inequality, world poverty, and so on.

Quibbles about the replacement of Standard grade and whether assessment is internal or external are metaphysical conceits. Indeed, as the arch-critic of the national examination authority's meltdown in 2000, Lindsay seems very confident about the ability of external exams to provide evidence of pupils' levels of achievement.

Recourse to Socrates and Plato is timely. They advocated an educational philosophy in which depth, relevance, challenge (and enjoyment), personalisation and choice would not be out of place. It would not be unreasonable to think advances in pedagogy have taken place in the intervening millennia.

Now that the Education Secretary has spoken, perhaps the debate can proceed in a less polarised manner?

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education, Strathclyde University.

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