One step forward and 30 years back

28th November 2003 at 00:00
After recently having a bit of a rant about modern cover versions of classic pop songs sounding like the original except not so good, it was pointed out to me that not everyone was around the first time they were released and so would not notice.

Then, a younger audience won't mind that Girls Aloud are not a patch on the Pointer Sisters, nor discern that Flaming Lips have borrowed their sound from Neil Young.

I find myself getting vexed about such things and worry that I am suffering from a form of Tourette's syndrome as I fight the overpowering urge to shout obscenities in an inappropriate forum.

I felt like that recently during a talk on the new thinking on national assessment. We were told by the presenter that a member of another of his audiences had exclaimed: "Oh good, I hope we are going back to the Seventies!"

I don't know how many of you have fond memories of those times in education, but I have been there and I don't want to go back, thank you very much.

Spending the days on maths and language textbook exercises with a bit of geography, history and nature study of the teacher's choosing thrown in here and there could not be described as a broad and balanced learning experience for primary kids. I recall one teacher's decision to cover Switzerland with her P3 class, based on the rationale that she had enjoyed a holiday there and had snaps and postcards that she could use as resources.

My recollection of assessment is that it amounted to: "Johnny is making very good progress because he has finished all the examples in book 6 and is labouring through those in book 7." Not so much a case of teachers'

judgment as stating the obvious.

It was no wonder that we were inflicted with the Purple Plague - guidelines in documents of that hue from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum - as an attempt to put some rigour into the primary curriculum, including the introduction of strange terminology such as aims, skills and attitudes.

The next version came in red, but the 10-14 curriculum sank without trace after much heated debate about its value (and cost) among high heid yins and absolutely no debate in any staffroom that I sat in.

And then we got 5-14, which is as far removed from a laissez-faire approach to curriculum design as it is possible to get. Overloaded, yes, weighty, undoubtedly, in terms of curriculum coverage and the acquisition of knowledge rather than the development of skills and attitudes, but nevertheless it is a framework with which primary teachers have become confident. They feel that after many years of hard graft and a succession of improvements they are finally on top of planning and delivering the curriculum. They may not love it but they have wrestled with it and now have it in the organisational equivalent of a head-lock.

So, obviously, it's time for a change.

Mention of a curriculum review brought the instant response of: "Oh, what next!" One teacher said that she did not intend to get overly excited about any initiative because it would all be changed again soon. This may not be the reality but it is the perception.

I have to say that I have some sympathy with these views and, because as headteacher I will be responsible for managing the fallout from curriculum changes, I am taking a great interest in the early debate so as to get an idea of the direction in which we will eventually be pointed. I just hope that those involved in the decision-making about changes to the curriculum have been around in education long enough to recognise that some ideas which might be hailed as initiatives are really cover versions of originals.

Some of us are like Paul McCartney, who currently sings, "I go back so far I'm in front of me!"

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in AberdeenIf you have any comments, e-mail

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