Doug Marr has stirred up a hornet's nest among those with strong opinions on Scottish schools and, in particular, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) ("Why classroom teachers need to step up to the plate", The Herald, February 16 & Letters, February 18).
My career was spent in the non-formal sector of education, now referred to as community learning and development. I had the privilege of working with HM Inspectorate of Education for the nine years before I retired. For the last few years I made a small contribution to inspections of secondary schools while managing inspections in their geographical communities – their learning communities.
CfE represents a transformational change in Scottish education and nobody said it was going to be easy. That it is necessary is hardly in doubt. Nor is the fact that our young people face challenges and change today at a pace we baby boomers never knew. When the principles and framework for CfE became apparent in the mid-naughties, it was for me a cause for celebration. It sought to herald an education for our children and young people based on coherent progression in what they know and are able to do from three to 18.
At its heart is a commitment to improving literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing within school communities and across curriculum areas. For the first time it recognised learning is not just a matter for the classroom, but a matter for the whole school community, the homes and communities where young people live and grow up. People forget that children and young people spend only 18% of their waking hours in school. The introduction of CfE was predicated on a rejection of the previous top-down approaches to curriculum reform. It recognised that teachers and other practitioners needed to be at the heart of successful implementation. From your correspondence this still seems to be a contested principle.
Not discussed by Doug Marr or your correspondents was the parallel development of approaches to learning and teaching that in Scotland were referred to as Assessment is for Learning. This challenges the premise, well known to older readers, that teaching is a process whereby those who know fill up the empty vessels that are those who don't – usually with the prime purpose of passing exams.
In my experience, young people in Scotland are increasingly becoming actors in and shapers of their own learning. Also, their achievements beyond Scottish Qualifications Authority results are increasingly being recognised and valued. These are hopeful developments.
59 Grangeburn Road, Grangemouth.
This is just what hard-pressed, overworked and stressed-out classroom teachers need – a former head teacher telling us we need to "step up to the plate".
The EIS survey Doug Marr refers to and I contributed to was an opportunity not to play the blame game but to articulate members' concerns about the implementation of CfE.
The lack of confidence stems from teachers having to wade through document after document and circular after circular about the new national qualifications and not having the time to reflect on how this can be realistically formulated into units and courses for all pupils. An industry has grown around CFE and records must have been broken in terms of binders and folders accumulated to gather the documents together.
It has to be said CfE from the outset was a top down initiative and teachers' opinions were never sought. If they had I believe money could have been saved as much of the later criticisms of the statements around the four competences could have been avoided if engagement with the profession had been central to the success of this so-called "transformational change".
Progress could and should have been made, instead we have what amounts to a teaching profession that has no voice other than our union to point out this shambles. Many principal teachers I have spoken to were satisfied with Standard Grade as a well-structured and rigorous test of pupils' abilities that allowed progression at all levels, but their opinions were ignored. The architects of CfE simply did not want to listen to experienced staff who were teaching pupils at the coal face.
Teachers do not want to be spoon fed as Mr Marr suggests, neither do they want to be seen as technicians. What is wrong in having a range of materials to hand that can be differentiated and developed with a clear rationale that can be properly understood – not a loosely defined national framework that can be interpreted any way you like and devoid of any meaningful structure.
CfE will not in its present form improve the standards of literacy or numeracy, it will not promote the Getting it Right for Every Child agenda and it most certainly will not support vulnerable pupils with additional support needs. I say this with a heavy heart as a principal teacher of support for learning.
As for Mr Marr, perhaps he should have been a football manager. Maybe he sees himself as the Sir Alex Ferguson of teaching but I see him as a manager struggling at the bottom end of division three with relegation staring him in the face blaming everyone around him.
17 Credon Drive, Airdrie.
Retired head teacher Douglas Marr is quite right when he says successful change depends on "high quality teaching and learning in the classroom". I doubt his preferred solution of removing job security for teachers and head teachers will prove effective in delivering it.
May I suggest instead that he offers his services as a temporary supply teacher, of which there is currently a dire shortage, and puts into practice that which he preaches.
He can then add to his head teacher's pension to the tune of rather less than £70 a day and assist his new colleagues in producing the materials they desperately need to develop the new national examination courses. These materials were promised by the Cabinet Secretary for Education but have, so far, failed to appear.
55 Falcon Road,
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