Delighted to see Professor Lindsay Paterson of Edinburgh University speaking out against the Curriculum for Excellence in today's Scotsman. Lindsay is one of the few senior academics to challenge a reform that is essentially anti-knowledge.
The Curriculum for Excellence is supposed to cover what children are taught between 3 and 18 as of next August (it's already behind schedule.) I became really concerned when the Royal Society of Edinburgh, not a body known for excitability, lambasted the lack of rigour in its approach to maths and science.
Here is a taster of what the society's pretty devastating report said:
In science, the outcomes emphasise applications, ethics and the philosophy of science at the expense of fundamental principles. How and where will science be learned? The statements of experiences and outcomes contain hardly any mention of fundamental concepts, laws and methods. Where will the bedrock of understanding come from whereby the next generation of scientists, or even of scientifically aware lay-persons, will be developed?"
Fiona Hyslop, the education minister, asked for a revision of maths and science after the Royal Society raised concerns. But why so reactive? CfE is not an SNP policy, they inherited it from the previous administration. I went to university with Fiona, she is an academically accomplished woman who values knowledge. She should stand up to the quangocracy of "educational experts" determined to "modernise" schools using fad ideology. Fiona was a bit defensive when we bumped into each other recently at The Edinburgh Book Festival and I expressed my concern about CfE. "Don't believe everything you read," she said. Ahem. Well I've read the sources - the goobledygook produced by Learning and Teaching Scotland, the quango drawing up the curriculum and guiding its implementation. The jargon doesn't inspire - check the LTS website yourself. There is lots about "confident learners" little about what they will actually learn. Do we so lack direction as a society that we no longer know what is worth passing to the next generation?
Another person shocked by the Learning and Teaching Scotland blurb was Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools in England I asked Chris, a Sunday Times columnist, to look at it for Ecosse. He came to the same conclusions as Lindsay Paterson.
Knowledge matters. Children go to school to be taught things they would otherwise never know. They need to learn that the acquisition of knowledge is not easy and may not always be enjoyable. This is not how the experts behind Curriculum for Excellence see education. They think that it must be “relevant, inspiring and engaging”. Ultimately, yes, but there is no sense here of the necessary struggle. The things that matter most are not always the most “relevant”, whatever this word means. It may take weeks before children “engage”. That is why good teaching is so important. Revealingly, there is virtually no reference to the teacher as an expert in his or her subject. The section on “effective learning and teaching” actually makes no mention of teaching at all.
What matters now in 21st-century Scottish education is “active learning and planned, purposeful play”, also “collaborative learning and independent thinking” and the “use of relevant contexts, familiar to young people's experiences” If I were a young graduate, passionate about my subject, would I want to teach in a Scottish secondary school? No, I would not. It is clear when you read Curriculum for Excellence that passion and knowledge are no longer wanted.
Chris Woodhead is generally regarded as something of a "traditionalist". Professor Lindsay Paterson is more often described as a "progressive" in education. If these two men can agree on the danger of the Curriculum for Excellence, then surely we should be worried. I know I am, this is my most recent Sunday Times column on the subject.