Nurturing capacity for excellence

13th January 2006 at 00:00
Engagement with the new curriculum is well advanced in Aberdeenshire, where a programme of raising awareness, with presentations from the national co-ordination team, began almost a year ago.

The aim, explains George Milne, the authority's management and curriculum structure co-ordinator, is to ensure a "coherent, phased and managed" approach to change.

"A Curriculum for Excellence is so important that all teaching staff in Aberdeenshire have been issued with a personal copy of the document," he says. "It's central to everything we do in our schools and the focus of development plans and agendas followed by all our curriculum support groups."

Primary and secondary schools have been using the "four capacities"

specified in the document - successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society - as the basis for auditing current practice.

"A lot of things we do already help to promote these capacities," says Mr Milne. "So we've been supporting our schools in identifying those."

The exercise has raised concerns that will be widespread. "Some class teachers were surprised, and in a few cases dismayed, to see learning outcomes related to the four capacities," says Mr Milne. "For example, what has 'understanding different beliefs and cultures' got to do with maths?"

On the whole, however, feedback on the new curriculum has been positive.

"It has been very well received in Aberdeenshire. People see it as bringing coherence to a range of disparate activities that teachers sometimes feel have been imposed on them."

Douglas Milne, the headteacher of Inverurie Academy, agrees.

"There's going to be more freedom and flexibility for teachers, and pupils will be able to make choices that are more relevant to their lives," he says.

"We're particularly keen on the idea of modern apprenticeships and trying to use our excellent links with the business community to offer pupils a mix of school, college and work."

As subjects play a more supporting role and individual learners move to centre stage, the scene is set for a rich variety of experiences. "There's a crying need to get subjects out of their silos and making connections with each other," says Mr Milne.

"We have to take the 'extra' out of extra-curricular and put experiences that develop the four capacities at the heart of the curriculum," says Mr Milne.

"But it won't happen unless we considerably reduce the testing of attainment. I am all for standards, but a standards agenda that concentrates only on attainment is a sterile model that does a disservice to pupils."

Margaret Rattray, the head of Inverurie Market Place Primary, believes reducing the "pieces of information children have to regurgitate" is a priority. "Teaching should be more about skills - of learning, communication, presentation, research," she says.

"What has stayed with me from a university essay on Tudor England, for instance, is not detailed knowledge of that period, but how to collect, organise and present information in an interesting way."

Initially sceptical of yet another national initiative, Market Place Primary teachers came round quickly, following an in-service day when they used Aberdeenshire's adapted A Curriculum for Excellence starter kit to audit current practice, says Ms Rattray.

"My teachers liked being asked to work their way through it, as professionals, rather than being given something and told to implement it.

They felt they were getting back some freedom and creativity.

"They liked the child-centred approach. In primary schools, we have always been proud that we teach children, not subjects."

Ms Rattray adds: "There is now an optimism at this school, and around Aberdeenshire, that I haven't seen for a long while."

For the template used in Aberdeenshire to assess current school practice against the aims of the new curriculum, see www.acurriculumforexcellencescotland.gov.ukabout.asp

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