Pieces from an old puzzle don't fit the new curriculum jigsaw

23rd March 2012 at 00:00
A coherent picture of the new structure is impossible if we make it up as we go along

I have always loved jigsaws! I recall two in particular. One, because I must have completed it 100 times - the waving passengers, the grass banks of the cutting and the steaming funnel of the train exiting the tunnel. The second, a jigmap: fascinating irregular pieces with images depicting parts of Britain, the Houses of Parliament, the Giant's Causeway and Scotland portrayed by an imposing stag, Edinburgh Castle and a piper in highland dress.

Imagine my delight at the prospect of assembling the Curriculum for Excellence jigsaw from the clear picture painted by the Building the Curriculum series, the experiences and outcomes, the S1-S3 broad general education, the S4-S6 senior phase, the revised qualifications - a kind of jigsaw-lovers' heaven. However, I have been sadly disappointed.

The instructions for completion are simple and yet many have not looked at the picture on the box. Some are adopting the MFI wardrobe principle - only read the instructions if you get stuck and only then as a last resort - far better to make it up as you go along.

As long ago as 2006, it was clear secondary schools would be moving towards a 3+3 model of curriculum structure and yet in 2012 some local authorities and schools have not grasped the nettle. They persist with the 2+2+2 model, a simple two-piece puzzle stubbornly remains as three pieces. We speak of qualifications that allow for late decisions regarding level of presentation and then the SQA designs some National 45 courses which are difficult, and some would say impossible, to teach together. To compound matters, in some areas such as business studies, it develops different courses at different levels and then chooses to have different methods of assessment!

This is a Curriculum for Excellence but pupils at National 4 have no incentive to excel, 100 per cent is just a pass, presumably the same as 51 per cent. The puzzle does not fit together as the "manufacturers" of the pieces do not all share the finished design.

The CfE jigsaw has a clear picture, if you look at the "box", although some may not like what they see. Nationally, we need leadership and greater clarity of direction for those who say they do not understand the message. The recent letter from the chair of the CfE implementation group is the best so far. But some still carry on regardless, justifying their position with the "it's what our parents want" mantra. They want to keep the pieces from an old and different jigsaw and force them into the new picture.

I know from childhood experience that if you force the pieces into the wrong places, they break and the overall effect is lost. Our children deserve far better.

A puzzled secondary head (Derek Thompson, Westhill Academy, Aberdeenshire, writing in a personal capacity).

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