Useless using capacities to evaluate success

2nd January 2009 at 00:00

Dear Santa, please send me instructions on how to apply the capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence and, while you're at it, could you advise me on why they are so bland they can be applied to any life situation, thus rendering them meaningless?

As I was musing on the permutations of successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors, I had a moment of epiphany when I realised what is downright wrong with these capacities: they reduce everything down to the lowest common denominator. You can't fail to tick all the boxes. The tools are therefore fundamentally flawed.

Take my trip to the supermarket. Off I go with a list. Enthusiasm and motivation for learning - tick that box because, oh dear, they've moved their organic range. I have to negotiate changed territory in the store. Openness to new thinking and ideas? No problem. I'm ready to sample the latest products. Wow! Behold the successful learner!

But does the experience make me a confident individual? What about the development of secure values and beliefs? Perfect - I try to buy Fairtrade products, because I believe it is ethically wrong to exploit developing countries. I choose low fat yoghurt and buy a running magazine, so that's my healthy and active lifestyle taken care of.

Respect for others is uppermost in my mind as I travel the aisles. I wait patiently in the queues and don't engage in trolley rage. I buy Speyside whisky, appreciating Scotland's place in the world and making informed choices at the same time. Achieving the responsible citizen badge is definitely a doddle.

Three down, one to go. Am I an effective contributor? An excursion to the shops, especially over the festive season, definitely develops individuals with an enterprising attitude, resilience and self-reliance. Problem-solving too hits the mark.

There you have it. What more evidence do you need that it's well nigh impossible to fail the capacities' test? Teachers all over the place are running amok massaging existing courses to marry them to the four capacities. Sometimes we congratulate ourselves that we are already delivering all the stuff intrinsic to A Curriculum for Excellence. Of course we are if we are competent at all, and if we have kept in touch with research on how pupils learn.

The jigsaw pieces are entirely interchangeable - you could have successful contributors or effective learners or confident citizens or responsible individuals to cite one possible arrangement. It is a one-size-fits-all curriculum, which is as malleable as putty and therefore has no rigour.

What is being illuminated here? That this bright light in the firmament of Scottish education is dimmed before it's switched on? It's a blur of woolly dithering that has little chance of crystallising into reality. Pompous blandness oozes out of every pore, and using these capacities to evaluate our curriculum is therefore plainly a waste of time.

Inevitably, we are telling kids that there is no such thing as real success because we have airbrushed failure out of the system so that, like sausages on the conveyor belt, we are all the same. Meanwhile, we continue to be told that never has there been such an exciting time in Scottish education. Another bit of propaganda to mute the masses. We'd be as well having full frontal lobotomies - thinking, it seems, is just not on the agenda.

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

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