A Curriculum for Excellence – going over the top?

over the top?

Alison Wishart has just returned from Australia where she was exploring alternative secondary school curriculum models – some of which match with our extreme learning ideas

I had a great chat with Alison this morning which set up a discussion with secondary head teachers this afternoon.

Alison was telling me about schools in Australia where the early years’ secondary school curriculum is built around “concepts” which we might know better as themes.  For example, one of the themes is personal identity – subjects explore this theme from their own perspective with students – e.g. biology looked at disecting sheep brains and looking at human brain structure; whilst in other subjects they looked at the influence of nature/nurture; ethnic background; geographic location, etc, etc.  The pupils then had to complete projects drawing these subjects together using their own experience. I hope I’ve got this right Alison.

Some subjects are seen as “tools” such as maths, language, ICT which enabled this exploration to take place.

Alison then told me about the single exit point assessment – as opposed to our multiple and seemingly never ending SQA assessments in our secondary schools. What prevents us from allowing pupils and teachers to have much greater freedom from S1 – S3 then pupils undertaking a one – or preferably two year course – where they sat only one assessment at the point of exit? We currently let pupils sit multiple assessments due to the fact that we are worried they have no “fall back” position.

But what if we became smarter at knowing pupils potential – the fact is we do know their potential, what we don’t know if they are going to engage with their studies or not – that is the imponderable. But what if we could turn pupils onto learning – through a more engaging curriculum  – which builds upon their primary school experience – I’d argue that the likelihood of them switching off is greatly reduced.

I  have personally known so many – thousands – of children who would have got something out of this approach but who will be first to take the leap?

This leads me to the discussion with our secondary head teachers. We were discussing SQA costs – which are rising exponentially – to the point where schools are going to have to look at their presentation policies. The reality of this will be that pupils of lower ability will gradually be limited to which exams they can sit. So what might be the alternative – well why not S1 -S3 as a developmental phase where pupils build upon their primary experience as learners? In S4 most pupils will embark upon a two year course which will lead thenm to an exam at the end of S5. Some pupils will exit at S4 and take ther exams at that point. Wow! – at long last teachers would get two uninterrupted years working with pupils towards Highers or their equivalent. So what about S6? – well that would need some thought and perhaps that’s where we need to engage with higher education to look at what they want from school education – as far as I can see they certainly don’t rate what’s coming out of schools at the moment – so what have we got to lose?

The main problem here will be parents – or so we think. They want the safety net – or so we think. They want their children to be tested regularly – or so we think. But if we were to really engage with them and explain to them and their children about what we were thinking of doing would they really react as we might expect? I’m a parent – and I would have loved to have seen my sons have this opportunity.

Should we take the first step? – or wait for someone else?

3 thoughts on “A Curriculum for Excellence – going over the top?

  1. I find this post absolutely fascinating. But a minor point. You say what about S6? and then mention Higher Education. Could employers also not be involved? My concern is to give a good career path and exit strategy from school to pupils who are not going to university and perhaps not evento college. In some schools that equates with the majority or at any rate a large minority.

  2. Bob

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Apologies for missing out employers. I think I was assuming that the changes that we would be making S1 -S5 would enhance pupils’ employability through a much greater focus upon them as learners and the skill sets necessary for life beyond school. The issue with S6 is whether or not some pupils should completely miss out Highers and go straight to Advanced Higher – without the safety net? Most pupils who sit Advanced Highers are aiming for university – hence the need to link with HE.
    Nevertheless, your point remains valid and employers must be part of the consulation process if we were to move to something like the model I describe in the post.

  3. Pingback: Don’s Learning Blog » Curriculum change in Australia

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