Through the wormhole with 5-14

19th January 1996 at 00:00
The truth has got to come out. I'm a crypto-Trekkie. Not of the KirkSpock lot, let me hasten to add, but the Deep Space Nine version, the Rolls-Royce of the Star Trek genre. This new lot are static in a space station parked beside something called a wormhole through which various aliens to and fro, from 70 light years away. As a McGuffin, the wormhole is spectacular, visually and aurally, and every time it moves the station personnel have to deal with something new and unexpected.

It always comes to mind when I recall the dull thud on our desks of the 5-14 programme. It did not come from the unknown, unfathomable and unpredictable, as if through the wormhole, though you would never have thought so by the reactions of some headteachers. Clearly, few of these were interviewed by Heather Malcolm and Michel Byrne, authors of Implementing 5-14 in Primary Schools (Interchange No 36), a work that I have found interesting and illuminating.

Some colleagues performed at the time highly creditable imitations of what a couthy associate once described as "running aroon like doos withoot a heid" on reading the detail of 5-14. Malcolm's and Byrne's dispassionate statement that headteachers felt that the programme stimulated reflection on current practice is probably one of the neatest understatements we'll see this side of the millennium. Gradually, but inexorably, the truth of the old saw "you can run, but you can't hide" was borne out in some detail.

Contrary to unguarded and frequently renitent comment at the time, 5-14 introduced little that was new into the corpus of Scottish educational endeavour. What it did in effect was to codify it. The programme has a pedigree locked into the best of Scotland's educational and intellectual heritage of rigour and firmness, and it combines this with an openness to change and new thinking that shows the strength that will sustain it into the next century.

I have felt ashamed sometimes to read the knee-jerk reaction and lockstep uniformity of early, and even later, critics from various bodies that should have known better, impersonating the chorus of a Greek tragedy at the first hint of any kind of change. Certainly its timing was propitious to prevent the possibility of a slide into entropy, the tendency for a system to decay over time, that the Primary Memorandum failed to allay.

Malcolm's and Byrne's enumeration of some of the implementational effects of 5-14 provides a valuable insight into just how much the programme is not a neutral shade on the colour chart. Its effects, for example, on school policy-making were salutary. Written school policies, for just about everything under the roof, often had a glyptic quality about them, and were variable in their application and usefulness. It did not take long for them to reflect the influences of 5-14, often stimulated by visitors emerging through the wormhole from Edinburgh.

Research data produced by Malcolm and Byrne puts its finger on teachers' reactions and helps explain attitudes to 5-14 and points the way to a possible future. In terms of implementing 5-14, many teachers would rather simply be told what to do. If this was true for language and mathematics, it is true in spades for environmental studies, the black sheep of the Scottish curriculum. As the implications unfold of what it involves, many teachers would not cavil too much if regional, and soon unitary authority, educational development services devoted substantial time to producing topic support materials appropriate to attainment outcomes and targets, readily accessible, with appropriate assessment attached.

There is an old verse about two men looking out through prison bars, one seeing mud and the other stars. I like the idea of Interchanges being on the Internet. Knowing that what we are about is in the World Wide Web is somehow comforting, and something we should be proud of. It brings a new meaning to "Reach for the Stars".

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