Having the Courage of Our Convictions

These are interesting times for the future of the curriculum in Scotland’s schools, as a quick tour of the news media this weekend will illustrate. The Sunday Times reports that the Scottish Government will announce plans later this week to ‘press ahead’ with the implementation in August this year of Curriculum for Excellence (see also John Connell’s blog on the subject).  This, despite the opposition School Leaders Scotland and the SSTA, the secondary teachers’ union, who argue that it’s all very well for primary schools to implement the changes necessary for reform, but it is unrealistic to ask secondary schools to radically alter their established practices without knowing the nature of future national qualifications*

Meanwhile, in the ‘Ecosse’ section of the newspaper, Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of schools in England and Wales, weeps for the abolition of national tests at the age of 14, and tries to convince us that if they (England) are to return to the halcyon days of education, then the power of the teaching unions ‘has to be broken’ as they obstruct Michael Gove’s promise to ‘replace the skills-obsessed, politically correct, thematically organised national curriculum with a traditional, subject-based approach.’ Personally, I don’t have a problem with a curriculum which is obsessed with developing the skills of its young people, especially if ‘skills’ is preceded by ‘critical’ or ‘thinking’.

Speaking of traditional approaches, the TESS on Friday informs us that for the first time in over 150 years, a new national curriculum will be introduced in Australia, a move which will apparently see an end to attempts to deliver a more integrated experience along the lines of the Queensland rich tasks model which has been admired and emulated in other parts of the world, and a return to subject-based learning and stricter national guidelines. In a spectacular display of obfuscation, it is described by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a ‘back to basics approach that will help restore grammar, history, literature and phonetics to the classroom.’ It is very tempting in times of economic uncertainty to want to return to a time when things were apparently simpler, and greater, to ‘get back to basics’. The Scottish government is to be congratulated for showing a far greater ambition.

On another page of the same edition of  TESS, David Cockburn argues that the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence shouldn’t be seen as the end of the educational process, but as ‘philosophical concepts that underpin and inform everything we do.’  He doesn’t elaborate on ‘what everything we do’ should be, although I would guess, by implication, he means more or less what we do at the moment. Seeing the four capacities as the end of the educational process is, he says, ‘vacuous’. On this point I totally disagree. The capacities, or the purposes to give them their original name, do indeed set out the aims of the curriculum – or the ‘end point’ if there could ever be an end point in the activity called learning – and the detail underneath the four headline statements provide as good a description of that well-educated, well-rounded individual as you are likely to find.

*The future of national qualifications remains unclear, although it is also reported in Friday’s TESS that the SQA are promising the new National 4 and 5 qualifications will ‘mark a radical departure from traditional exams’, with case studies, practical tasks and projects playing a greater role in comparison to paper and pencil tests. Whatever form future assessments may take, it is highly probable that the professional judgement of teachers will carry more weight, with a reduction in expensive, bureaucratic, external exams.



7 thoughts on “Having the Courage of Our Convictions

  1. Bill,
    Interesting times as you say. It’s important right now that anyone with any voice uses it to support positive moves for Scottish education (of which CfE is a prime example), and to oppose any backward moves (such as Gove’s proposals for England).

    It’s worth pointing out the influence of News International, who own all the Times newspapers, including TESS, as well as Fox News, The Sun, News of the World and Sky. Don’t you think they have an axe to grind? And I bet it’s not the socio-economic improvement of working-class youngsters.

    Just a thought,


  2. Hi Gordon,
    Thanks for the comment. I’m laughing at the conversations we’ve had about News International, The Times et al. You’re absolutely right of course, but you know there are some intelligent and funny writers on that Sunday Times (as well as some complete twats, whom I rarely read. Jenny Hjul for instance, whose only role is to keep up a barrage of criticism of the Scottish government and remind us that we couldn’t possibly survive as an independent nation.) The vested interest in maintaining the status quo of the current education system isn’t the exclusive preserve of News International or Michael Gove however, and I’m not entirely convinced it splits along traditional class or party lines. I would simply say again, credit to the Scottish government for standing firm. Long may it continue.

  3. Absolutely Joe – I quite agree. I don’t know whether the message is coming across clearly though. It’s only a small percentage of teachers who read the TESS, and I know a significant number are quite hostile towards it, for reasons Gordon has highlighted above, and other reasons. It may well be that changes are being communicated to people in senior positions in local authorities, or even headteachers, and not being conveyed to the troops.


  4. “It may well be that changes are being communicated to people in senior positions in local authorities, or even headteachers, and not being conveyed to the troops.” – isn’t this usually the case, Bill?!

    I totally agree with Gordon – I am fed up of hearing nothing but negativity about CfE. This is our opportunity to be creative, to teach outside the box. The possibilities are endless but we need enthusiasm and drive – not complaints, petitions and short-sighted approaches. We cannot raise a sense of anticipation and adventure with this new Curriculum if the people with the loudest voices are always casting gloom and doom.

  5. Hi Jo,
    If only all teachers took that attitude! Unfortunately they don’t, so there’s still a lot of convincing to be done, and I suppose that’s the point of the blogpost. There is a great deal of hostility towards the kind of radical changes which are needed to bring our schools into the 21st century, some of it real and some of it exaggerated by the ultra-conservative mainstream media and commentators, who are unable to think of education other than in terms of learning facts and sitting exams (kings and queens of England anyone?) However, we have to remain optimistic about reaching that ‘tipping point’ in the number of teachers demanding change.


  6. Pingback: What Is The Purpose of Your School’s Curriculum? | edte.ch

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