What next for 5-14 workload?

29th November 2002 at 00:00
It has taken 20 years for inspectors to acknowledge their share of the blame. Now repentance must be followed by a change of ways, says John Muir

THE admission by HMIE primary specialist Roddy Duncan that the inspectorate has contributed to the 5-14 overload (TESS, November 8) is welcome and is hopefully an indication of its much publicised "independence" from its political masters. It is unfortunate, however, that schools and local authorities have had to come under such pressure for so many years before culpability was acknowledged.

I recall attending meetings more than 20 years ago, presided over by the inspectorate, during the so-called consultation period, when the draft documents were discussed with teachers and local authorities. At the time, the aim to provide greater structure for the curriculum and to offer some guidance on how to address the primary-secondary divide was broadly welcomed by the profession.

However, the feedback I picked up from these meetings was that the number of levels and the proliferation of strands would more than likely lead to a planning nightmare, particularly for primary schools. Then there was the expected workload related to recording progress and assessment.

Colleagues in the advisory service pointed to the environmental studies guidelines as the most daunting. I have not yet come across a school that has felt satisfied with anything that it did to implement the totality of the original document. The jury is out on the surprisingly more lengthy updated guidelines for these curricular areas.

When the final 5-14 guidelines appeared after the period of consultation, very few of the concerns relating to workload had been addressed. HMIs blithely proceeded to inspect schools on the basis of these guidelines and they must have been aware over these years of the challenge that 5-14 has been to our teachers.

Notwithstanding the broad welcome for some uniformity in the curriculum via the 5-14 documents, schools found that there were no detailed nationwide planning guidelines, nor adequate direction on the writing of policies for each subject area. Indeed, were the guidelines themselves not policy documents anyway? The result has been that for many years local authorities and individual schools have been reinventing this particular educational wheel across Scotland.

Over the 20 years I have worked in the advisory and support service, I have seen so many formats for planning, record-keeping and assessment drawn up by local authorities only to have them changed again and again, more often than not following HMI inspections of schools. With revised guidelines and an updated version of How Good is Our School? now in place, sadly I see the exercise being repeated. Whatever happened to Time for Teaching, which aimed to put a stop to the proliferation of paperwork?

HMIE must by now have identified what it believes to be best practice and should come clean and arrange for formats to be issued for use by all schools, which take into account workload and the issues raised in the Time for Teaching report. Then there must be a pledge not to move the goalposts just when teachers feel they are "on the ball" at last. Recent history is littered with those who have fallen by the wayside as a result of the many changes and associated overload to which Roddy Duncan referred.

Confession must lead not only to repentance but also to evidence of a change in ways, as hardly a month goes by without yet another document tumbling into schools.

Early indications are that this is not the case.

John Muir is a quality improvement officer with Highland Council. The views expressed are his own.

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