Reform timetable 'too tight'

8th May 2009 at 01:00

The Scottish Government can still get A Curriculum for Excellence back on course if it does one of two things: ploughs in more resources, or pushes back its deadlines.

That is the view of EIS education convener Larry Flanagan, who was pleased that 89 per cent of surveyed teachers had been involved in discussions about the new curriculum - but concerned that this left one in 10, four years into the programme, "not engaged at all".

The worst-case scenario would see the new curriculum "collapse on itself" as fundamental aims became lost in the detail of guiding documents. "We will just end up with one set of guidelines replaced by another set," he said. "The aims of the programme will be lost."

Mr Flanagan flagged up several serious concerns: 46 per cent of secondary teachers have little or no confidence that their school improvement plan will be reviewed to match the implementation time-table; 47 per cent of teachers are "barely" or "not at all" confident that expected progress with active learning will be made; and 46 per cent are unfamiliar with the most recent guidance document, Building the Curriculum 3. "All seem to point to the idea that the current timetable is too tight," he said.

The national CPD team has recently been expounding the benefits of locally-organised training, but Mr Flanagan said national courses were vital to the reform. It was through high-quality, nationally-run CPD that teachers would become enthused about the far-reaching aims of ACfE, subsequently acting as catalysts in their schools. "If you don't get the big message across, it becomes difficult for schools to get up and running with it," he said.

The union fears that CPD budgets are fragile under the concordat between national and local government, and called on the Government to ensure their protection.

The survey made clear that the "overwhelming majority of us" want reform to work, observed David Cameron, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. "Not all the messages are encouraging, but they help us define the scale of the task we have and its nature," he said.

Some findings echoed those of an ADES survey which provided "clear evidence of inconsistency across authorities and schools in how they were addressing this major change".

He was unclear about how the EIS had defined relevant CPD, which had also been an issue in the ADES survey: CPD on Assessment is for Learning, co- operative learning or other approaches relevant to A Curriculum for Excellence were not considered, "because they were not specifically badged as such".

He also queried the extent to which the survey recognised that elements of current practice and ACfE demands were "highly compatible".

Mark Priestley, a senior education lecturer at Stirling University specialising in curriculum studies, said: "What's coming through very sharply is the general sense of confusion, and even despair at times.

"It's worrying that so many teachers appear not to be clear about the fundamentals of Curriculum for Excellence, given that it's touted as major transformational change."

A clearer vision needed to be communicated at a national level; grassroots work alone could not be relied upon. He also advised making more resources available to free up teachers' time, otherwise they would not engage with curricular reform.

A Government spokesman did not comment on the survey, but underlined that "it's for councils to ensure that all teachers have access to high-quality CPD that is relevant to their development needs". He said commitment to ACfE could be seen in: the extra implementation year; the creation of 100 new teaching posts to work specifically on reform; and three extra in- service days, which had been "warmly welcomed" by Mr Flanagan.

Teachers' comments

"Staffing is very tight, there are no staffrooms in (local authority) secondary schools and most of these teachers are so heavily timetabled and overworked that they don't have time to discuss A Curriculum for Excellence."

"Many areas of the 5-14 curriculum were very prescriptive, and boring, but the CfE gives me the opposite impression: a great deal of philosophy and not much structure. There must be a happy medium somewhere."

"I am a visiting specialist and have hardly had any opportunities to discuss A Curriculum for Excellence."

"It is essential teachers are not left to flesh out the vague outcomes. This would mean too much work for ordinary teachers and a fragmented strategy to teaching the curriculum."

"It appears there is an educational land-grab where any tenuous connection with a course is resulting in some staff trying to grow their own departmentsubject - despite the obvious lack of experience in particular areas - which seems to be wholly against the ethos of ACfE."

"I love the ideas embedded in ACfE but the guidance (especially at authority level) has been very poor."

"The surplus of enthusiastic teachers who cannot find permanent jobs should be used as ambassadors and roll out the key message, as they will be the ones who actually teach using this curriculum."

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