Putting the new curriculum to the test
Dogs look like their owners, they say. But when you come face-to-face with the Scottish Government's building at Victoria Quay in Leith, the same could be said of architecture.
Victoria Quay is chock-a-block with civil servants. It's an austere, symmetrical monster of a building - but it serves its purpose admirably, providing a functional working environment for some 1,600 people.
Tim Wallace and Charles McTrusty joined their ranks last year as two of the four teachers seconded to the Scottish Government as professional advisers on the Curriculum for Excellence team. The two men, both depute heads, have grown accustomed to their new surroundings. And having started in March last year, they are getting used to missing out on the long summer break. "The transition was not an issue," says Mr McTrusty.
As the new curriculum has taken shape, it has been Mr Wallace and Mr McTrusty's job to criticise it, based on their 14 and 29 years respectively of working in schools.
For some teachers, this would be like living the dream - a favourite hobby and pastime turned into a full-time job. In contrast to many of their colleagues, however, for Mr Wallace and Mr McTrusty the criticising has stopped, now the guidance - the so-called outcomes and experiences - has been published.
They are happy with the final result, they say. "It's very high-quality stuff," says Mr McTrusty, who has been seconded from Glasgow's Hillhead High.
Mr Wallace, depute head of South Morningside Primary in Edinburgh, agrees, adding: "We've never felt we have been asked just to nod our heads and go with it; quite the opposite, in fact."
However, far from spending all their time holed up in Victoria Quay scrutinising documents, they have been out in schools seeing the new curriculum in action. It has been inspiring, they say. Now both teachers are looking forward to putting A Curriculum for Excellence into practice when they return to their own schools in the middle of next year. "We've been really lucky," says Mr Wallace, "because we've got to see the big picture and understand what the new curriculum is all about. In a school you try your best, but you have the day-to-day issues to deal with. We know what it's meant to look like."
Mr McTrusty says: "We get into other local authorities and schools and see how they are progressing with it. There are some great ideas. If we have issues at school with an aspect of the curriculum, I'll have a bank of good work to draw on."
Visiting primary and secondary schools in a variety of authorities has also enhanced their understanding of the different sectors, they say. Mr Wallace is the only member of the team from a primary background, but Mr McTrusty is a self-confessed primary convert.
"I'm now a big fan of primary schools," he admits. "While I was in school, apart from issues round pupils in transition from primary to secondary, it was difficult to get a perspective on how primary operated on a daily basis. This has given me a real insight. Some of the work they were doing to take Curriculum for Excellence forward really impressed me."
Mr Wallace, for his part, feels he now has a better understanding of secondaries and, more specifically, the timetabling issues they face, having spent a morning in the company of a high-school timetabler. "I was taken through how they work out the annual timetable," he explains. "As someone who does the timetable in primary, I can tell you we face nothing like the same issues."
The two big projects still in development, that Mr Wallace and Mr McTrusty are working on now, are the skills guidance and assessment. They have also been involved with briefing ministers and helping answer letters.
Mr Wallace meanwhile, with his early years expertise, has a pet project which involves getting further Curriculum for Excellence support materials into pre-school establishments. "As a sector, people working in the early years have a huge variety of experience," he says. "This is about recognising the need to engage and support them when it comes to the new curriculum. For instance, local authority nurseries will get the additional Curriculum for Excellence in-service days, but private ones won't."
Come the autumn, therefore, a DVD will be sent to all primary and pre- schools. The film contains examples of good practice going on in Scottish nurseries in relation to a variety of topics identified by the profession as areas in which additional support would be beneficial - planning round the new outcomes and experiences, working with parents and transitions, for instance.
"They watch the video with colleagues and then there are questions to discuss," continues Mr Wallace. "It's been great, because it was my idea and it has been taken forward."
However, the teachers' principal role remains that of critical friend to civil servants. Having been seconded since March last year, they are keen to get back into schools to ensure they are still truly representing their colleagues' viewpoint.
"A big part of the job over the next six months to a year will be finding out if there are any issues to do with implementation, and giving advice about how they can be addressed," says Mr McTrusty. "We are no longer reviewing the curriculum; now it's about implementation."