Rescue proposed for ACfE

17th July 2009 at 01:00
Architect of the curriculum policy criticises the Government for loss of momentum over reform

One of the main architects of curriculum reform has challenged Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop with a seven-point plan to rescue the Government's flagship policy.

Keir Bloomer, the former director of education and chief executive of Clackmannanshire Council, who was a member of the review group for A Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE), which reported in November 2004, has become increasingly critical of the policy.

He believes the Government has failed to communicate the "big picture" behind the new curriculum, and has relied on the "cul-de-sac" of pupil experiences and outcomes.

But the Government has dismissed his criticisms, pointing to "unparalleled" engagement with the teaching profession.

Although press reports in the past week have given the impression that Mr Bloomer's fears are new, he has been complaining about a loss of momentum on the reforms for more than a year (TESS, June 6, 2008).

This year's annual conferences of the two main unions, the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, reinforced the impression that the policy had lost its way and was in danger of losing teacher support as well.

Mr Bloomer called on Ms Hyslop to lead the charge in restoring the original vision of the reformers, which aimed to bring to Scottish schools "a 21st-century curriculum based on transformational change". It had to be about developing pupils' "higher-order skills," such as information- handling, the powers of synthesis and creativity, he said.

"Banging on about literacy and numeracy is not going to do it," he said. "High standards in basic skills are absolutely necessary, but not sufficient."

A 21st-century curriculum had to be "personalised" to the needs of individuals, he said, rather than founded on "the mass delivery of a standard service".

He added that these were long-term objectives, but warned: "That sense of the long term has been completely lost."

The reforms had to work with two timescales - "planning strategically and doing what is realistic" - he said. That is part of the seven-point plan he is urging Ms Hyslop to adopt. The other ingredients are:

- keep the idealistic vision in view

- sell the big picture to teachers, parents and employers

- build capacity for change at teacher and school levels

- identify as "early adopters" schools willing to take a lead

- assess "the skills we claim to value" such as teamwork and communication, in addition to exam reform

- provide a new curriculum that is "more intellectually ambitious with an emphasis on higher order skills"

Mr Bloomer acknowledged that the confusion over the curriculum plans stems from two conflicting sentiments: "It (ACfE) is seen by teachers as having a liberating effect, yet many within the profession are panic-stricken at the notion that innovation is best done at school level."

This tension made it more necessary than ever to tackle the lack of professional self-confidence among teachers and the lack of school capacity to bring about fundamental change, he said.

That could only be done by investing in continuing professional development and having a national CPD strategy. "From what I can see, there is no such strategy," he said.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We respect the views of Keir Bloomer. However, his comments do not reflect the unparalleled involvement of the teaching profession in the development and implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence, nor the continuing commitment to partnership that exists amongst the key education bodies in Scotland.

"From the start, we have made it clear that the successful delivery of this radical programme will rely on communication and engagement with teachers and key partners. Their input has been central from the earliest stages."

The spokesperson pointed to the "implementation partnership", led by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, which was "helping to drive forward progress and ensure principles are communicated and guidance is provided to local authorities and their schools".

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