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The way for successful students

I write to argue the case for A Curriculum for Excellence.

As a former primary head, adviser, and now teacher educator, I have spent many hours in Scottish primary school classrooms. I have been around in education when "topics" or "themes" were the best thing since sliced bread and still around when we dared not mention them.

I have seen us move from the unstructured, and sometimes random, planning of learning, which is so heavily based on ticking boxes and highlighting strands and targets that it defeats its purpose of delivering effective learning for children.

In the last 10 years, there has been a new focus on the quality of learning and teaching, much of it informed by an increased understanding of the ways in which children learn. This move from content to process has been largely welcomed by Scottish primary teachers, where it is seen as an opportunity to return to what many perceive to be "good teaching".

I don't argue for the return of the days when I could more or less do what I liked in the classroom. What I am arguing for is the return of learner-centred education - and the way to achieve that is through cooperative learning. It is one of the best-researched instructional strategies and the evaluations of my students tell me it is a highly effective way to learn. Indeed, there is no better way to deliver confident individuals and successful learners than for teachers to introduce cooperative learning into their teaching repertoire.

So I am not as worried as some of my academic colleagues about the introduction of A Curriculum for Excellence. I see it as a golden opportunity to advocate the very learner-centred, democratic and inclusive approaches to teaching and learning that have been frozen out by 5-14.

We have a real opportunity to seize the moment and, while things are so vague, to drive the agenda in the direction that teachers might feel fits more closely to the kind of teaching they know works.

Margaret Martin lecturer in educational studies, Glasgow University

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