Time for 'life laundry' in the classroom

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Clear the desks to make way for the decluttered Curriculum for Excellence, less crowded in content and more creative in approach, writes Elizabeth Buie

A Curriculum for Excellence will dominate the continuing professional development landscape for the foreseeable future as it becomes the umbrella under which everything from subject development to methodology shelters.

Not all CPD opportunities will be badged Curriculum for Excellence and there will be some exceptions. But the move towards decluttering the overcrowded curriculum, infusing teachers with greater professional autonomy and building bridges between subjects to create more inter-disciplinary approaches will require time, commitment and reflection, not to mention courage.

At this stage, the emphasis has been on professional engagement and discussion of what values should underlie education in its quest to produce "effective contributors, successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens". There is a way to go before decisions are taken on simplification and prioritisation, says Maggi Allan, chair of the curriculum review programme board.

There are four main messages.

* The whole school has responsibility for developing the four capacities (quoted above) in every child. While this has obvious CPD implications for teaching and senior management staff, it also means that Scotland's 14,000 classroom assistants must be included in CPD arrangements.

* Learning and teaching will be put at the heart of the new curriculum, with a renewed emphasis on the "how" of teaching as opposed to what is taught. This is likely to include a continued, if not greater, focus on areas such as pupils' learning styles and teachers' own teaching styles and teaching practice. One of the key aims of the curricular developments is to make learning more engaging and enjoyable.

With a major focus from the Scottish Executive on reducing the high number of school leavers who become NEET (not in education, employment or training), teachers will be expected to concentrate on ways of holding young people's interest in learning. Research from Glasgow City Council now suggests that disengagement starts as early as P6.

* Review work has shown the curriculum leaders that space can be found for learning in depth. Early indications are that this will mean reducing the number of levels at which outcomes are described, defining targets for learning differently, and removing duplication across the curriculum. In practice, it will mean that the new curriculum guidance will be thinner, less detailed and less prescribed than it has been under the 5-14 guidelines.

Ms Allan describes the situation to date as teachers having been "spoon-fed" guidance. In future they will have much greater space to be creative, although warnings have been issued that this is not a return to the free-for-all days under the Primary Memorandum.

* A Curriculum for Excellence offers ways of unifying the curriculum.

Expect to see much more in the way of cross-curricular and inter-disciplinary work. Citizenship, enterprise, sustainable development, and health and well-being will be fertile areas for unifying the curriculum and making children see a greater relevance in what they are learning.

For many teachers, the opportunity to be more creative and have fewer time constraints on the what, where and when of teaching will be music to their ears. For others, who for years have been locked into a highly prescriptive system, the prospect of greater autonomy will be scary.

Margaret Alcorn, national CPD co-ordinator, predicts professional development will be needed in both content and methodology under A Curriculum for Excellence.

There is no doubt, she argues, that the curriculum changes will only work if attention is paid to developing the confidence of teachers and finding the right opportunities for them to develop.

"Teachers are still waiting for the expert to tell them the answer," she says. It's not a blame game, she insists, simply a recognition that for years this was the method that applied in Scotland.

Teachers who have recently come through the induction process will have a better idea of professional responsibility. For teachers who have been told for some time what to do, it may be a different story. In their case, we will have to start with the excellent practice they already have, but say 'Can we move it on a little bit?'."

Mrs Alcorn, who last year launched her eight-tier approach to CPD - taking in the various stages from probationer and newly qualified teacher to chartered teacher, faculty headprincipal teacher, right up to senior management - has already advocated to the Curriculum for Excellence programme board that they draw parallels with this ladder when they come to drawing up CPD for the new curriculum.

Ms Allan has underlined the importance of Mrs Alcorn's presence at Curriculum for Excellence management meetings at the Scottish Executive, to ensure that the ACfE and CPD strategy are aligned.

She echoes Mrs Alcorn's warnings about the new guidance.

"There are issues around learning how to work with new guidance.

Interpreting and using it will probably require some development work with teachers.

"One of our aims is to enable the teaching profession to adopt a more reflective approach to interpreting guidance, to learning and teaching and to thinking about the sorts of achievement that might be recognised differently.

"Teachers ought to have greater freedoms to teach, which brings, invariably, greater responsibilities. CPD activities will need to examine what these mean, not least as we think of leadership being exercised at all levels."

See pages 4-5

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