In a recent interview for the TESS, Professor Tom Devine, Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, was discussing the recent upsurge in interest in Scottish history, and linking it to the newly-found confidence of the Scottish people in electing a majority SNP government. In education, this aspiration is also reflected, he claimed, in the term ‘Curriculum for Excellence’, before warning – and revealing the self-doubt of his own and previous generations – that ‘if it doesn’t turn out to be excellent…then it could be a contradiction in terms.’
While I am about to agree with him in one respect, and argue that it’s time for the term to be dropped, I would contend that if the ‘it’ in Professor Devine’s statement refers to the curriculum frameworks, or to the values, purposes and principles of the new curriculum, or even to the pedagogical approaches underpinning the new philosophy, then it could be argued that ‘it’ is already excellent. I have certainly yet to hear any strong arguments against, or credible alternatives to, any of the above, and the number of endorsements from leading educational figures, both in the UK and in other parts of the world, would appear to reinforce that view.
Problems arise when the expectation is that the curriculum, rather than people, will deliver excellence, or an excellent experience for learners. This manifests itself most clearly for example when a local authority claims, as one does elsewhere in the same edition of the Times Ed that smaller schools will be unable to deliver ‘it’. Have they ever heard of virtual social networks? Is the word Glow ringing any bells, for example?
However, another issue, and one which is easily solved, is when a name persists beyond its natural usefuleness. I remember for example, after one of the revisions of Higher English when, to avoid confusion, the new Higher was labelled ‘Higher Still’. Years later, when the revisions were well established and there was no alternative, it was still common for people to refer to the fact that they were ‘doing Higher Still’, a term which by then had become redundant. The danger is that the longer the name persists, the easier it is for the sceptics and the cynics to convince themselves that opting out is a viable option.
Curriculum for Excellence is here. It is not the future, but the present. The original authors were right in using the term to reflect the aspirational nature of the curriculum, but perhaps now it is time to move on and talk simply about ‘the Scottish Curriculum’. I, for one, will be trying to follow my own advice in the new academic session.