One giant step on journey to get it right

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Curriculum for Excellence got a huge boost last week at the Aberdeenshire Learning Festival, when all the authority's teachers, along with leisure, recreation, libraries and support staff, convened for the first time under one roof

As motivational speakers go, you don't get them much more inspirational than Jamie Andrew.

His story hit international headlines 10 years ago, when the young climber, then aged 29, had his hands and feet amputated after being trapped on a tiny ledge in the Alps for five days and nights in terrible storms. By the time a helicopter could reach them, his climbing partner and close friend Jamie Fisher was dead and Jamie had severe hypothermia and frostbite.

His story of rescue and rehabilitation is extraordinary - on titanium legs he was able to return to mountaineering, conquering Ben Nevis, Kilimanjaro and eventually back to climb in the Alps. The death of his friend, and his own second chance at life, fuelled his determination to give it his best shot.

Jamie has achieved all-round sporting success - running the London Marathon, snowboarding, skiing, and sailing - but describes his toughest challenge as being dad to three demanding young children.

Two years ago, he launched a charity, 500 miles, with fellow amputee Olivia Giles, to support initiatives to develop prosthetic services for those in need across the globe.

It was a compelling opening for last week's Aberdeenshire Learning Festival - a gathering of more than 3,500 teachers and leisure and recreation staff at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. Most of the audience were teachers and many were climbers and hill-walkers, with one or two serving on Mountain Rescue Teams - but the story was just as inspiring for couch potatoes.

The inservice day was organised by Aberdeenshire Council's education, learning and leisure department, supported by HMIE, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Learning and Teaching Scotland.

"For the first time, we are able to have every teacher in Aberdeenshire, along with leisure, recreation, libraries and support staff, under one roof," said director of education, learning and leisure, Bruce Robertson.

The idea came from staff in the 3-18 Curriculum for Excellence planning group. "It gives us an opportunity to have all our staff together, demonstrate our commitment to CfE and show how we will be taking our own 3-18 framework forward," he explained.

Aberdeenshire faces particular challenges, with another 36,000 houses being built across the north east over the next 20 to 25 years, creating whole new communities, said head of education Laura Mason. "We know our young people will more than likely not just have one job for life. They are going to experience periods when they are not in paid employment and our 21st-century curriculum should prepare them for such times - for example volunteering, transferable skills."

An exhibition of some 150 stands included all 17 networks of academies and their associated schools, illustrating Curriculum for Excellence projects they had developed and showcasing good practice.

Lindsay Macdonald had just finished her probationary year and was now teaching P6-7 pupils at New Deer Primary in the Mintlaw schools cluster. It was showing work on motivation, in which she had been involved.

"We've got a lot to do with the Journey to Motivation, which is a scheme to raise levels of self-esteem and resilience in children," she said. "So we've been looking at different behaviour stances that children are in, positive and negative learning stances and how children can move out of negative learning stances and improve their learning."

At a nearby stand Fiona MacInnes, Aberdeenshire's first Gaelic teacher, was promoting Gaelic education. She teaches in the Alford, Aboyne and Banchory clusters. "There have been quite a lot of teachers asking if it's possible to have Gaelic in their schools. For the time being, there's only one of me, but there is a lot of interest."

There was a chance to see and hear the children's talents with musical performances and a display of schools' artwork for the Year of Homecoming. Two pipers and 16 drummers from the Banchory Academy Samba Band played "Scotland the Brave".

"We're really trying to put across all that we're doing in Aberdeenshire, but also looking at the national picture," explained one of the organisers, Moira Lawson, a Curriculum for Excellence development officer with the council.

"We're looking at how we can best get it right, not just for Curriculum for Excellence but considering all the GIRFEG agenda - Getting it Right for Every Child - and how we can support our staff, because we really need to be working with our probationers.

"We're very conscious that we've worked with headteachers, with our deputes and faculty heads, but for CfE to move forward in a dynamic way, we have got to get our practitioners on board. This was a way to do it, to bring them all in," said Mrs Lawson, who is on secondment from her headteacher post at Alehousewells Primary in Kemnay.

Ten seminars covered topics on literacy, numeracy, health and well-being, enhancing early learning and new technologies. There were presentations on National Qualifications from the SQA and on future thinking from HMIE.

Fiona Norris, team leader for literacy and language at LTS, and Helen Shanks from Aberdeenshire Council, led the session on literacy. Mrs Norris highlighted the central importance of listening and talking in developing literacy on the basis of "How do I know what I think until I hear what I say?"

Teachers' main concerns were the organising of talk, assessing progression, and lack of confidence in involving pupils who range from those who say nothing to those who will not shut up. A key concept she recommended to help teachers was the use of "scaffolded dialogue", in which they kick off with questions and build on pupils' answers to deepen their understanding.

Numeracy leader John Tease, from LTS, questioned how well pupils calculated, and gave some examples of problems:

- write the number that is 1,000 more than 56,821 (only 35 per cent of P5s got that right in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study; international average 49 per cent);

- subtract 2,369 from 6,000 (55 per cent of P5s were OK with that one in Timss; international average 71 per cent).

"Pupils have big problems with big numbers of zeros," he said. The answer was "decomposition" - example, reduce the 6,000 to 5,999 and add 1.

It was, he stressed, fundamental to help young people with this, because "the real world deals in big numbers - go into Bamp;Q for a cabinet and you won't find it described in terms of 60cm, but 600cm".

In another session, on Communities Working Together, Strathclyde Police Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, from the Violence Reduction Unit, argued that money should be diverted from universities to nurseries, to begin addressing the culture of violence in Scotland.

"If you bring a child up in a war zone - you'll create a warrior. If his early years are about that - that's how he'll behave. Those early years are absolutely vital," he insisted.

"We seem in this country and, perhaps elsewhere, to have relied on this notion of punitive disposal and say: `Well, we build more prisons, get more cops, make more legislation that'll fix it as a deterrent.' It doesn't, and it won't, and the evidence is all around us. It's about inequality, it's about poverty, it's about a whole range of things we have no control over.

"The most dangerous thing is the increase in inequality," he argued. "That won't be helped by more and more people going into university at the expense of nursery education and early years enrichment for those most at risk."

In the Future Thinking session, HMIE Frank Crawford spoke about how the world outside develops five times faster than the school:

- pupils can now go online and buy bits of cells to build an organism that has never existed before;

- robotics has developed to such an extent that it's hard to tell what's real and what's a game (the US Air Force this year has taken on more gamers than pilots, because their aircraft drones are operated remotely);

- teeth can be grown from mice to grow parts of the body, for example, a human windpipe grown from stem cells.

Some teachers were worried about the rate technology was changing and whether they would be able to keep up. One or two expressed concern about how they would find time to do everything expected of them.

But there were words of encouragement from the final keynote speaker - the charismatic Norman Drummond, founder of Columba 1400, the leadership centre on Skye. Its main ethos is to develop the potential of young people who have been through rough times.

"Keep the child at the centre of what you do - and don't let the stuff get in the way," Mr Drummond advised them.

"Stop valuing targets and start targeting values.";


"For many young people, their exam results will correlate as much to their birth weight as to any other statistic - they have low birth weight and poor exam results. They are marked from the beginning and our job is to change the narrative for these young people. Those who have problems rarely have just one: there are few victims only of economic disadvantage; many also live with mental problems, drug dependency and peer pressure."

"Young people won't survive in the 21st century if all they can do is read and write, if all they have is a few Highers. We are dealing with a world where we inhabit ambiguity."

"Ask not what you can do for CfE, but what CfE can do for you."

David Cameron, President of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has 30,000 units on its books, of which only 350 are externally assessed. The vast amount of Scottish qualifications are, therefore, internally assessed, and secondary schools can get a move on now to augment the way pupils are assessed to support CfE.

John Allan, SQA policy manager for new products

It is not just schools that lack male role models - 65 to 70 per cent of youth workers are female: "Many young males don't have a male role model at home, or a good one.

"We can't keep the issue as the elephant in the corner any more."

Jim Sweeney, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland, which is considering a "male role model" campaign

It is important, as the new curriculum and assessment arrangements are being developed, not to "take our eye off" the group of pupils now in S1, who will be the last to sit Standard grade and Intermediate exams in 2013.

"Teachers are embracing Curriculum for Excellence more enthusiastically than perhaps they were nine months ago. It's striking - though perhaps I've just been going to the right schools."

Keith Brown, Minister for Schools and Skills, whose child is in S1.

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