Through untinted glasses;Comment;Opinion

9th February 1996 at 00:00
I hope to be involved soon in an organised in-service therapy for stress management, courtesy of Strathclyde's educational development services, but while I am waiting, trying zen and testing the primal scream alarms, I fall back on tried and tested routines to restore normalcy. For some, this might mean cleaning out the filing cabinet yet again, helping the jannie to clear up litter, or trying to decipher the cabbala of the devolved management codes. For me, the cure is to go back to sources, to the canonical writings, the formative texts of educational praxis.

Surprisingly, this is not exclusively 5-14. The aforementioned stress is usually kickstarted by exposure to hamfisted attempts at historical revisionism of the genesis of the 5-14 programme, which is, in the words of Jim Anderson (TESS, January 12), chairman of the implementation committee, a major development in Scottish education, and more importantly, a school experience our children deserve. I have tried to make the point before, that 5-14 did not spring fully armed from the frontal lobe of chief inspectors or any of their research cup-bearers, to fill in an idle moment between craters of tea on a damp Friday afternoon. Instead, it draws its inspiration from the mainstream of Scottish education, not from overblown imaginings of what that mainstream should or might have been.

Like Goering with culture, I reach for my gun when I read of 5-14 placed in opposition to the good practice that is supposed to have existed in the past. There is an Alice in Wonderland touch about this, and it is out of place in the pragmatic business of getting to grips with the here and now curriculum demanded by 5-14, and the pressures inherent in putting it into practice. Returning to the sources has convinced me that 5-14 has its origins not in romantic notions of a non-existent golden past when we all did all the right things with all of the curriculum but in factual research undertaken in Scottish schools. Because of that, it has an authority that stems from in-depth knowledge and experience of the strengths and weaknesses of our system as it has developed over the past two decades.

The 5-14 programme can trace its sources back beyond Learning and Teaching in P4 and P7 (1980), but that document proved to be an invaluable halfway house for evaluating the progress made since the publication of the Primary Memorandum in 1965 and for pointing out the paths down which Scottish education should go. Rereading its conclusions is an excellent counter to the golden glow factor: 5-14 was the inevitable result of Learning and Teaching because the Inspectorate, while outlining the positive aspects of curricular delivery, highlighted the extent to which some classroom practice was coming up something less than roses, and showed that the balance of curriculum elements, together with the emphasis and order of priority within them, needed to change.

Learning and Teaching delivered several trenchant conclusions, chiefly that the primary curriculum in many schools was too narrow, failing even sometimes to conform to the regulations of the Schools (Scotland) Code 1956 and preferring to concentrate on what schools considered the "basics". The inevitable distortions this produced enabled HMI to find that 75 per cent of classes did not develop spoken language by using drama, no formal exercises to improve listening skills were used in half the classes, 20 per cent of classes were not attaining acceptable standards in reading, and pupils' experience of continuous writing was limited in quantity and variety. And that's only language.

If this is the rosy good practice that has been snuffed out by 5-14, then its proponents are deeply into nostalgie de la boue, if not the boue itself. Their blind spot probably comes from a simplistic opposition to 5-14 that sees curriculum delivery through its own sometimes wary and distrustful professional lens, opposing change instinctively, rather than judging it in terms of what children are learning. Learning and Teaching tested teachers' eyes; 5-14 was the prescription for untinted glasses.

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