Winnie the Pooh meets Higher Still

20th November 1998 at 00:00
I FEEL angry and frustrated - hand-wringing stuff - as the Higher Still controversy turns into something resembling a cheap and nasty game show. A competition between the Education Minister and the teaching unions. The prize? The understanding and sympathy of the Scottish public? I think not - education is a fine enough commodity to be knocked about the political field but it's not exactly society's number one priority.

Yet parents and children must feel worried as Helen Liddell's furrowed brows and her cries of "it's the - young - people's future" insinuate into hearts and minds. It is certainly raining cats and dogs now that the teaching unions are beginning to rumble about the problems.

What is my expectation of Her Majesty's Government regarding Higher Still? Maybe it is bold to say so but I want the courses delivered to my school and written up in a professional way. Sketchy details of a syllabus and a few pages of skimpy official speak do not constitute a course. Is it too much, for instance, to ask for lists of recommended reading? Oh, and there is another thing; it would be terribly useful if the books in the lists were not out of print.

Let's be reasonable here. Some of the material isn't too bad. The latest support materials for religious studies do contain some material which can go straight to the photocopier. Here is a foundation we can build on. But look down the lens at my other teaching subject, English, and you will view disorganisation of the lowest common denominator. Chronically garbled is how I sadly describe the Higher Still English materials. How I wish that people could be inoculated against writing such jargonised babble.

The truth is that English teachers, despite comfort talk to the contrary, have little faith that teachable courses will materialise. I can't tell you how frustrated, frustrated and frustrated I was (I have been taking lessons from Tony Blair) to read the "revised documents arrangements" for English and communication. Pages and pages of arrangements, performance criteria and evidence requirements.

All well and good - we do need the paraphernalia of admin stuff - but most of all we crave for the courses. Real flesh and blood material we can teach to our students. Possibly, this is where the Education Minister may turn round and tell me to write my own courses. Fine, Helen. I don't have a problem with either the motivation or capacity to do so. It's the time factor and I know you will think that is a monumentally boring old chestnut.

The problem is I have a full timetable, including two Higher classes. Yes, short working day in school, weekends off and long holidays. The reality is marking and preparation at least four nights a week, a large proportion of most weekends and during holidays. I am not complaining; I want my pupils to do well and I love my work. But maybe you can understand why it is reasonable for me to expect the Higher Still courses to arrive pretty well ready to teach.

The thing is we have been here before. New ideas, new courses but not enough support from the Scottish Office. And no, I do not need a drill sergeant to lick me into shape. I am looking for a professional approach to manage such radical changes in the curriculum. Something about the approach of the Scottish Office reminds me of the teenager who, when asked about the remit of guidance teacher, described the teacher as someone who guides you into your problems.

It is true that money is being spent on Higher Still but hurling cash at the problem is not the whole solution. There has to be quality support if the courses are going to be deliverable by the teachers and valuable to the pupils. Stop the haranguing of teachers, write the courses and keep them simple. The Scottish Office could do a lot worse than adopt Winnie the Pooh's saying as a motto: "I am a bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother Me."

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