I’ve been doing a bit of work in Scotland recently and I’ve come across an initiative which I don’t think as got much coverage south of the border. Curriculum for Excellence is a complete rethink of the Scottish school curriculum. Despite the rather unpromising title (which puts me in mind of Homer Simpson winning a bogus award for “outstanding achievement in the field of excellence”) Curricum for Excellence is one of the most exciting educational policy initiatives that I’ve come across.
There is a lot of moaning in the papers that teachers aren’t allowed to teach, that schools are too target driven and kids are being tested too much and too young. However, the critics of this approach don’t really seem to offer up any alternative. Or when they do it seems even worse (back to basics curriculum, punitive testing, more selection etc). However in Scotland they’ve taken the decision to do something really different.
Curriculum for Excellence is a new curriculum which is influenced by constructivist and social constructivist thinking. I’d broadly put myself in the constructivist camp so I’m going to say that this is a good thing, but I’ll try and outline what it actually means to that you can judge for yourselves.
Curriculum for Excellence makes the argument that the capacity to learn is more important than exactly what you learn. Teachers should teach students rather than subjects. It highlights relevance, local autonomy for teaching professionals, co-ownership of learning by students and the need to recognise cross-curricular and extra-curricular learning. It sees assessment as primarily a tool for teaching and learning and keeps national qualification based assessment out of schools until the senior phase. In short it is attempting to declutter the curriculum of subjects, targets and exams and allow teachers to develop curriculum that are designed to deliver learning that is meaningful and effective for their students.
I think that this sounds fantastic and if the Scottish pull it off it will be a real alternative model for England (and elsewhere) to look at. There are of course risks, it is demanding for teachers, gaining some kind of standardisation is more challenging than in the old system and because of time pressure and local autonomy some schools may just carry on with business as usual. Nonetheless the opportunity for something really interesting is there.
I buy into this model because it seems to fit with the way that I believe people learn. However, I also buy into it because a curriculum that emphasises cross-curricular and extra-curricular learning and which sees a strong role for experiential learning is a curriculum that is fertile for careers education. Career is an ideal concept around which to base cross-curricular learning, it is also an idea that makes it easier to engage learners in ownership of learning and a place where the relationship between the personal and the social is made real. How Scottish schools decide to deal with careers education in the context of Curriculum for Excellence remains to be seen, but it is well worth watching.
Does anyone read this blog from Scotland? If so, have I got this right or do you see it differently?
It reminds me a bit of something I heard or saw about teaching philosophy to primary school children to engage them with critical thinking skills. Perhaps this is what they were referring to http://www.philosophy4children.co.uk/