Welcome to the Everest that is called ACfE

3rd October 2008 at 01:00

Fancy climbing Everest in flip flops and jeans? I didn't think so, and yet this is what we are being asked to do with A Curriculum for Excellence. A colleague wisely observed recently that never before had schools been asked to do so much with so little guidance.

Supposedly, schools are being given carte blanche to develop something truly special which will ignite the heather for our pupils. I spent an evening last week phoning my various contacts throughout Scotland. What I found out certainly accords with the lead story in The TESS September 19 on the curriculum reforms ("Calls for clear steer").

No one to whom I spoke was feeling optimistic about the progress of A Curriculum for Excellence. Most are stockpiling stress, as they find they are expected to produce the thrilling new courses with no extra time and no more finance. Local authorities vary in the extent to which they are offering leadership. Some are fairly active in terms of at least suggesting ideas to be discussed and dissected. Others are slumbering in their offices or having many futile meetings.

Teachers are increasingly feeling a creeping bolshiness as an ever-closer encroachment on their precious time impedes their ability to do any part of their job successfully. The ultimate casualties will be our pupils.

Research carried out by Vivienne Baumfield and Ian Menter bears out the anecdotal murmurings from the troops. The team from Glasgow University found that teachers are actively asking for more guidance on the "draft outcomes and experiences".

Bizarrely, given the findings, Bernard McLeary, chief executive of Learning and Teaching Scotland, has said there is to be no change to the tediously banal "I can" statements because, the focus has to be on pupil learning. Imagine if medical students were taught in the same vacuous way; most of the patients would die.

The new curriculum documents are intrinsically arrogant, because they take no account of previous good practice. Take a successful interdisciplinary project on the Victory in Europe 50th anniversary. History, geography, social studies, music, PE and other subjects were involved in an absolutely stunning project which inspired the pupils and delighted the parents.

An "excellent curriculum" without question, but was it THE Curriculum for Excellence? Where and when did it happen? Bishopmill Primary in Elgin in 1995. It knocked spots off the banal four capacities and surpassed every aim of the current proposals. My daughter, who was 10 years old then, still speaks about it and I don't think she's a lesser being for not having ticked a box to say "I can sing the `White Cliffs of Dover'" or "I can explain rationing" or, to stick to the jargon, "I can describe the main features of conflicting world belief systems".

What's wrong with learning from others? Self-discovery is a major aspect of the journey from ignorance to knowledge, but surely part of that excitement is learning from others. Good teachers have something worthwhile to bequeath their pupils. If I didn't believe that, I'd have given up long ago. Even Plato learned from Socrates, though I wonder how he succeeded without chanting the mantra "I can think philosophically".

So, if you are going to ask teachers to climb mountains, at least equip them with the right gear.

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

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