What price for excellence?

11th August 2006 at 01:00
The articles by Jill Robertson and Alan McLean on A Curriculum for Excellence (TESS, July 28 ) have been published at a time when, because of holidays, many teachers will not be reading the paper. A pity. They raise many interesting points.

However, as I have said before, until ordinary classroom teachers have a clearer picture of what might be in store for the curriculum and for assessment the hopes the Scottish Executive have will remain simply aspirational. Much still requires to be understood. Teachers still don't know what the "profound implications", as Dr Robinson puts it, for schools are. I would predict that very many teachers have not yet seen the recent Progress and Proposals publication.

Mr McLean says: "A Curriculum for Excellence . . . reinforces a teacher identity based on subject teaching." I myself was coming to the opposite conclusion; a position not, in my opinion, too dissimilar from that expressed by Ronnie Smith in his "state of the union" speech at the Educational Institute of Scotland conference in June when he said: "Work has been going on to develop the Curriculum for Excellence - to ensure we adjust to reflect the changing needs and expectations of our schools. It is still early days in what will be a protracted process, but we should expect to see emerge more concrete proposals in the coming year. That will be unsettling for many teachers and I am sure there will be much jostling for position in a limited curricular space among many competing interests. It will take great skill and maturity to steer our way through all this and end up with a curricular approach that satisfies the very diverse demands now facing our schools."

The EIS general secretary seemed to believe there would be time for thoughtful decisions to be made. But by what process? How many classroom teachers across the country have had a direct say in the discussions to date?

And where is the programme board in its thinking now? Where in the spectrum from rigid French-style national curriculum to a curriculum free-for-all does Dr Robinson's "clear national expectations" with "scope for well judged flexibility" fit? What exactly does she mean? How would it affect secondary schools and the job stability of subject teachers? How will the work of Learning and Teaching Scotland be taken forward in schools, particularly if new resources are required but local government budgets are to be cut?

And more importantly, how does assessment tie into this change? Scottish Qualifications Authority assessments require certain skills, aspects of knowledge and understanding to be mastered and taught. While many have not been happy with the current need to "teach to the test", we don't understand what this curriculum newspeak means for the assessment system.

If we have a curriculum which takes account of pupils' real life experiences, as Mr McLean advocates, not only are we unclear about what is taught but also about what is assessed and how.

If in the coming year teachers need time for familiarisation, reflection and engagement with the process, other priorities will have to be put aside. As Alan McLean said: "When our roads are being improved, it causes delays; but in schools, normal service is always expected while improvements are being made."

Given the current challenges staff face normal service can't continue. The timescale for A Curriculum for Excellence suggests an implementation date of next August. This is, of course, incredible and the sooner Dr Robinson gets clearance from Mr Peacock to alter the 2007 date to "indicative"

rather than real the better for all in Scottish education.

Bill Ramsay

Albert Avenue, Glasgow

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