Parents fail to engage with education

13th August 2010 at 01:00
Education Secretary's curriculum tour doesn't pull the crowds, and other issues dominate agenda

Teachers may be preoccupied with Curriculum for Excellence as it finally becomes a reality this month - but it appears the same cannot be said of parents.

Only 40-odd people turned up at Inverurie Academy in Aberdeenshire this week to grill Education Secretary Michael Russell at the first of three public meetings he will hold in August.

One audience member confessed his disappointment at the turnout in a school of 1,000 pupils: "I thought this place would be stowed to the gunwales."

Mr Russell had billed the meeting - for people from throughout the north- east - as "an excellent chance to put any questions about the new system to me". But of the 18 questions he had to field, only four were about CfE.

A former education director told The TESS last week that many teachers were "not even in the starting blocks" for CfE. It seems that many parents have not even found the changing rooms: one man asked for "some clarity as to what the kids are actually going to get" from the "woolly" reform.

CfE was not a curriculum but a methodology, Mr Russell stressed. Its "christening was probably a mistake" but it was too late to change its name.

Not so for the National 4 and 5 qualifications, whose name he also dislikes: "They sound like roads in America, not qualifications. I haven't totally given up on changing this."

Mr Russell accepted there had been failings in communicating with the public, but warned that problems with CfE had been "hyped" by some teachers and the media.

A parent from Aberdeen said she felt "totally informed and very enthusiastic about CfE", but that its potential would be scuppered by the city council's controversial plans to save money by reducing the number of secondary schools.

Mr Russell would not comment directly on that local issue, but did strike an ominous note: "There is not the resource to support the entire school estate. We need to use the money in the school estate more creatively."

Another audience member struggled to see how localised approaches to education, encouraged by CfE, could be assessed adequately, but Mr Russell stressed that schools would still have to work within a national examination system.

The Education Secretary is clearly keeping an eye on the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government in Westminster, which he referred to a number of times.

Its plans for a curricular revamp were "eerily reminiscent of what we're doing" with CfE, he said. But he was less inclined to highlight similarities when it came to cost-cutting: the coalition was going "too fast, too far", whereas the Scottish Government would "approach things with a modicum of intelligence".

The next meetings under the Engage for Education initiative will be in Alloa on August 26 and Benbecula on August 31.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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