Progress derailed

5th December 2014 at 00:00

There's a famous scene in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times where the hero is desperately trying to keep up with a conveyor belt of screws he has to tighten. He copes admirably at first. But because he can manage the workload, the belt starts to move more and more quickly, as nuts and bolts fly towards him.

The inevitable happens: the work backs up and our hero becomes scunnered with the whole thing, his former enthusiasm a distant memory. That's before the iconic scene where Chaplin is literally sucked up by the machinery he thought he was operating.

Sound familiar? Perhaps it's just me, but it feels as though we are reaching a similar point with Curriculum for Excellence. It seems that many of us are being sucked into the machinations of this labyrinthine new assessment process and forgetting what it was about in the first place.

We are halfway through the first year of the new Highers and I am still trying to make sense of the internal assessment strands. When will we say that too much has really become too much?

It is even more frustrating when the machinery that should be there to enable us to teach fails to take into account the relentless conveyor belt of nuts and bolts that head our way every day. The fact that it is constantly increasing in speed doesn't help much either.

The elasticity of the profession is becoming dangerously stressed. We have been stretched and pulled in all directions in order to deal with a changing curriculum, while simultaneously teaching new courses amid the greatest austerity cuts for a generation. This is happening in the same year as the publication of a major paper on dealing with workload (bit.lyWorkloadReport). Many teachers haven't been able to read it because they're too busy. The irony crashes down like a cartoon anvil.

The problem is that we are trying to force a new shiny thing into an old tired thing. We are trying to shove an inspiring new curriculum onto a creaky structure. CfE is a modern, high-speed train on broken tracks. It is battering against the door of the same school system that I went through 30 years ago. Is it any wonder that the shine is in danger of wearing off?

But we are at a junction. We can still go either way. The immense strength of the teaching profession in Scotland can get us over this hump and make it work. And there's too much at stake to give up on it now.

I have always been very positive about CfE and I hope I still reflect that in my practice. But I constantly see committed teachers being sucked up by paperwork and unnecessary evidence requirements.

We are bending over backwards to make the system work but perhaps the real change needs to be elsewhere. Slow the conveyor belt down. Let us tighten up the nuts and bolts that we already have. We can make them outstanding - our education system could be outstanding. Let us teach.

Kenny Pieper is an English teacher

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