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What about balance?

Plans to limit social subjects to history and geography will deny pupils an essential educational experience, argues Gavin Clark

ANGUS Council's proposal to limit social subjects to history and geography in first and second years. (Curriculum clearout, September 4) and The TESS editorial support for this plan will dismay proponents of a balanced, dynamic curriculum.

The recent inspectors' document "Achievement For All" clearly states that pupils should experience modern studies in S1S2. National curriculum guidelines also expect pupils to study all three social subjects. If Angus proceeds with this misguided plan it will set them apart from other education authorities in denying pupils an invaluable educational experience in S12 and therefore, in many cases, throughout secondary school. Modern studies is the only subject which can effectively cover topics such as the election and role of councillors and MPs, how society functions and the rights and responsibilities of individuals within Britain and the international community.

I do not imagine that the history and geography teachers of Angus will relish teaching the 5-14 curricular theme "People in Society", which they must do if this proposal goes through. Moreover, I am certain that they would not be able to cover this area meaningfully given limited time and resources. This is a workload issue which should encourage history and geography teachers to join their modern studies colleagues in opposing this plan.

Furthermore, as an SNP-run council, Angus is now at odds with its party's national education policy. Nicola Sturgeon, SNP spokesperson on education, has stated in a letter to the Modern Studies Association. "I am fully supportive of the expansion of modern studies in schools". In a recent MSA survey all sitting SNP MPs also expressed their full support for the teaching of modern studies in Scottish schools.

Members of Angus's dominant party ought perhaps to consult more closely with their political masters before engaging in such crude curriculum mismanagement. Their plans are already causing concerns within the ranks of the SNP. As Wally Leask, the former vice-convener of Angus education committee, told a concerned local teacher, "I would be appalled to think that children in Angus would not be given the opportunity to study modern studies since it is now such an important component of social subjects."

The Tayside branch of the MSA has already communicated its opposition to Angus council. Like all MSA members it believes that it is time modern studies became a compulsory feature of the S1S2 curriculum. At present, the position of social subjects is unclear and unsatisfactory.

This allows local council experimentation to overrule Scottish Office guidelines which are clearly based on common sense. The value system of a country is reflected in its educational curriculum, and we must ask what messages the children of Angus are receiving under this proposal. Can we really allow them to believe that it is more important for them to understand their past than it is for them to understand their own lives and their roles in the future of our country and the wider world?

All who work in education must reject this absurd conclusion: the sensible approach is, of course, to accord both areas of learning equal importance.

It is time to safeguard all social subjects against local authority whim. While all teachers understand the need to facilitate effective learning in S1S2 there is widespread feeling that Angus has not looked creatively at the problem and has produced solutions without proper regard for a balanced curriculum.

Problems with a perceived "curriculum fragmentation" can be effectively reduced by blocked rotation in social subjects, thus ensuring all pupils receive the full range of subjects HMI believe they deserve.

While the status of social subjects must be addressed to prevent similar situations occurring elsewhere in the country, the urgent issue is now the education of the pupils of Angus. They must not be deprived of a curriculum which addresses their need for a balanced knowledge and understanding of the world around them and which respects their development educationally and as informed and confident citizens. The teaching and learning of modern studies impacts on all of our futures. Angus Council must be urged to review this short-sighted policy and to look more constructively at the education of its young people.

Gavin Clark is secretary of the Modern Studies Association.

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