It was heartening to read Gordon Kirk's bullish promotion last week of his role as dissenter-in-chief of Scottish curricular reform. It proves the old maxim that old rebels never die, they just write notes of reservation.
But is there any truth in his argument that the publication of A Curriculum for Excellence in 2004 demonstrates that there has been no progress in thinking since the publication of the Munn report in 1977?
As a member of the ministerial review group on the curriculum 3-18 which produced the report, I have to declare an interest. Not only was there no note of reservation this time, there was complete unanimity about the report.
Gordon Kirk, in listing three key differences between the two reports - scope, consultation and age range - misses the most obvious difference and that is the political and educational context. The Munn and Dunning reports (along with the third of the triumvirate and, in some respects, the best of all in terms of its analysis, the Pack report) arose out of considerable feelings of concern about the ability of the secondary curriculum and the O grade exam to meet the needs of Scottish young people in comprehensive schools, after the raising of the school leaving age.
The ministerial review group was established after the national education debate had indicated a broad measure of support for the current system of state education in Scotland, but had identified an overcrowded and discontinuous curriculum as causes for concern. Indeed, it was the very fact that Munn looked at S3 and S4, followed by the 10-14 Report and then 5-14 and then post 16+ that the present lack of progression and continuity arose.
The exciting aspect of the review group's remit, confined as it was to purposes, principles and a framework, was that it was the first time since the Advisory Council of the immediate post-war years that an attempt had been made to look at the curriculum in its entirety and not in "slices". It is, therefore, probably a little premature of Gordon to think of penning an imaginary note of reservation to this report.
The review group was excited by the possibilities offered by this report, including the "de-cluttering" of curriculum content and the relaxation of central prescription. Creativity, innovation and flexibility are the keynotes of A Curriculum for Excellence and I believe that the four key purposes of creating successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective communicators leave ample scope for Gordon's "lifestyle skills".
I agree with him unreservedly on one point, however, and that is the report's title. It is vacuous and the word excellence does have overtones of political correctness. I proposed "A Curriculum for Life," but was overruled. I should have written a note of reservation.
Professor of Education University of Strathclyde