'Velvet revolution' for the curriculum

31st March 2006 at 01:00
Schools will now have two years to get ready for the new 3-18 curriculum, which will be implemented from August 2008.

In what amounts to a "velvet revolution" in the way reforms are introduced into schools, teachers are testing out the best ideas and practices before they are endorsed by the policy-makers.

Already, around 700 schools throughout Scotland have enrolled in a "register of interest", signalling their willingness to offer good practice or to act as testbeds for innovation.

Maggi Allan, chair of the programme board for the review, told The TES Scotland in an exclusive interview: "The profession is now leading this development."

This represents a major departure from the approaches taken to introduce the Munn and Dunning reforms, 5-14 and Higher Still, in which ministers propose, consultations take place with restricted groups of key players, ministers finally decide, central guidelines follow and teachers receive staff development through "cascading" change from above.

In its first progress report, the board set out what it calls a "tentative timeline". Draft guidance, including the potentially contentious place of subjects, will be published in September. It would be much "leaner" than previous exercises, Mrs Allan promised.

This will be followed by detailed consultations with teachers, professional development for staff and piloting. The final shape of the curriculum will start to emerge in June next year and there will then be a year of "familiarisation, preparation and development".

Mrs Allan said the board was confident that space for learning in greater depth can be found, allowing pupils and teachers more choice and freedom.

This conclusion was welcomed, almost with a sense of relief, by Peter Peacock, Education Minister, who said he would give the report "very careful thought" and respond in due course.

It was also welcomed by the Educational Institute of Scotland, a fierce critic of the way reforms have been handled in the past. The union paid tribute to "the high level of consultation with teachers".

Mrs Allan made it clear that, while no detailed proposals have so far emerged on specific curriculum areas, "it's not because we have been sitting on our hands".

She said: "We decided early on to engage in debate with the profession about the principles, purposes and values of the curriculum and to see if there was a consensus about what these should be. We also wanted a debate to encourage teachers to talk to teachers about these issues, not just us as a board talking to teachers.

"That takes time - but it is time well spent. We now believe we are in a position where the profession is leading this development."

In her foreword to the report, Mrs Allan, former director of education in South Lanarkshire, said A Curriculum for Excellence had "resonated with almost everyone to whom we have spoken".

She continued: "There is a genuine feeling of excitement about our goal of enabling all young people to become successful learners, responsible citizens, effective contributors and confident individuals."

But Mrs Allan said that it would be the responsibility of all teachers and the whole school to develop these four capacities. Pupils' broader achievements would have to be acknowledged, not just attainment in exams.

"A Curriculum for Excellence set out the general parameters, so we know what the foundations are," Mrs Allan said. "Let's start building."

She cautioned against any expectation that the curriculum changes would take the form of "a big bang event" and commented: "It's not as though a red light comes on for 5-14 to cease and A Curriculum for Excellence gets the green light. The green light is on already so that, for example, schools can start planning for the curriculum principles set out there and begin then to examine how what they are doing fits with these principles.

"We know from our visits to schools that they are already doing that and teachers are beginning to think in those ways."

Full Report 4-5; Platform 18; Leader 20

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