Scaling everyday Everests ain't easy

21st August 2009 at 01:00

It may be the moment when you receive the latest glossy education department publication or perhaps when you contemplate last year's unfiled paperwork or when you read your plethora of irrelevant emails or when you hear the relentless tick tock of more audits.

But at some point you are aware, as we step on the treadmill for another year, that the Scottish education system is in meltdown.

We've known it for at least the whole of the last academic session. Looming rumbles about less money have become hard reality. Newly-qualified teachers are a necessary part of staffing quotas, rather than the supernumerary beings they were intended to be. Incompetent teachers continue in the system because there is no will to get rid of them. The confusion regarding A Curriculum for Excellence deepens, and we are no wiser than we were two years ago.

Worry abounds regarding the new exam format, class sizes, the condition of school buildings, the lack of effective leadership, child protection, levels of physical exercise, healthy eating and so on - no shortage of material for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

This present widespread lack of direction in Scottish education is unprecedented. Coupled with the litany of woes listed above is a gut feeling that we are not getting the standard right. We have journeyed far from basic literacy and numeracy, the ability to handle mental arithmetic without a calculator and the capacity to rote-learn.

During the summer holidays, I had an interesting conversation with two senior biology lecturers from one of our traditional Scottish universities. They perceive a lessening of quality in candidates for postgraduate degrees, explaining that the main problem is an inability to put theory into practice. These students interview well on the area of their expertise but, when asked to think outside the box, fail.

The major underlying problem is two-fold. The way we have lowered expectations all round is totally demeaning to pupils and teachers. Excessively praising poor-quality work is detrimental to everyone in the equation.

We are failing to promote the idea that sometimes learning is a huge challenge and fraught with obstacles. Everest isn't climbed without persistence and Andy Murray speaks of the agonies he suffers in order to operate at the top of the game.

The other problem is our distaste for speaking the truth. "Areas for improvement" is how we now allude to weaknesses. Everything must be couched in politically correct terms. In thus dispossessing them of the truth, we limit the vision of our students. It's detrimental to think that you have no faults, because there is then no motivation to improve. We are producing kids totally lacking in basic oomph because they are led to believe they are hunky-dory in every area.

Good luck while you navigate the thrashing seas of the new session. I expect the daftness to get dafter.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology in Forres Academy.

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