Curriculum change in Australia

We had a great presentation today from May Sweeney and Alison Wishart about their recent visit to Victoria and Tasmania to explore emerging curriculum models.

I was particularly interested in the Victorian Essential Learning Standards which has three key strands: Physical, personal and social learning; Discipline based learning; and Interdisciplinary learning.

What captured my attention was the research which May referred to which reinforced the notion of disciplinary learning.

I believe that this remains one of the central challenges arising from A Curriculum for Excellence where in the drive to break down barriers between secondary school subjects we lose some of the existing strengths of the system.

As I’ve explored before on this blog we have a duty to parents, pupils and our profession to make sure that we don’t lose this opportunity presented by the ACfE. However, it was fascinating to learn how the Tasmanian public had responded to curriculum change in their state. The lesson for us in Scotland is to ensure that all stakeholders (jargon alert!!) are involved in the development of our curriculum and that we avoid jargon at all costs.

In line with this throught we explored the possibility of bringing together for a few days a head teacher, depute head teacher, principal teacher, teacher, student, parent and local empoyer from each of our secondary school communities to explore how we might move forwards our S1 – S3 curriculum in East Lothian.

Dunbar Primary School Provision

I recently spoke to parents and members of the Dunbar community about the option appraisal taking place to review primary school provision in Dunbar.

The driver for this review is the exceptional population growth taking place in the town. For example, the predicted intake in 2010 is 184 which would necessitate 8 Primary One classes.

I won’t go into all of the details which will be published this week on the ELC website but I will reflect upon the thinking which influenced my position on the option appraisal.

There were 5 options:

A. Do nothing – not an option really given the growth in population and predicted school roll of 1,253 by 2014;

B. Build a second primary school in a green field site;

C. Build an infant school (P1-P3) on a green field site and use the current primary school as an upper primary school (P4-P7)

D. Build a new upper primary school on a green field site and use the existing building as an infant school;

E. Extend West Barns Primary School – this has been discounted due to a traffic management review which demonstrates that it could not accommodate any increase in roll.

Options A and E can be discounted – which leaves B, C an D.

In Wednesday’s presentation I focused upon the educational justification for my decision to support option B – i.e. a new school (nursery to P7) on a green field site.

Advantages of the Infant and Primary school option:

1.  A key concern of the community (although not necessarily an educational factor) is that it enables all children in the town to go to the same school and therefore doesn’t cause a split between different areas in the town.

2. All pupils would get to know each other (although compromised by the very large numbers)

Disadvantages of an Infant and Primary School:

1. This option does not give us any flexibility if population growth exceeds current estimates as the Upper primary will be 784 in 2013. We need to to come up with solution which can accommodate expansion if the population grows faster than planned. The Infant/Upper primay school option does not afford that flexibility.

2. We would have a huge infant school of 510 pupils. There would be 184 pupils in P1 and the pupil management challenges presented by such numbers would compromise many of the educational opportunities which are offered to children in our primary schools -e.g. visits, trips, extra-curricular activities, etc.

3. Lack of senior pupil (P6/P7) to act as mentors/buddies.

4. The very large early year groups would result in exceptional traffic congestion as parents arrive at school to drop off and pick up their children. This could present concerns for pupil safety.

5. The additional transition from at the end of P3 to a new school gives the potential for pupil regression as they settle into a new environment. Our focus in the authority is to see education as a 3-18 experience and we would like to reduce such transitions wherever possible.

6. It is established good management practice to move teachers between year groups to ensure they gain as wide a perspective as possible on the curriculum and levels of attainment in every part of the school. By splitting the early years from the upper years this practice cannot be accommodated.

Advantages of two primary schools:

1. The two schools would have school rolls of a reasonable size ((605 and 545)which would ease management challenges and ensure that the extent and delivery of the curriculum is not compromised.

2. No potential drop off in attainment due to transition.

3. Continuity of learning from nursery to P7.

4. Traffic congestion greatly reduced – not compromising pupil safety.

5. Mentoring and buddying by senior pupils easily established.

6. All teachers work on a contimuum where they can move between year groups and stages.

Disadvantages of two schools:

1. Potential split in the community with one part of the town – (the new part) being split from the more established area of Dunbar – although this concern could be allayed by a careful drafting of the catchment area.  I should point out that if this were to happen that it would involve a very comprehensive community consultation process.

There are obviously challenges facing us in the next four years but we should be able to address these through 4 temporary units which will be installed this summer and a further 4 next summer. Other challenges such as dining and PE will be addressed though careful management.

Finding your voice

I received a query from Arthur Male recently asking:

“How do you contrast the conversations you have on Don’s Learning Blog with the conversations you have person to person when you are engaged in understanding educational experience?”

To which I replied:

“I may be misleading myself, and perhaps it might be best to check with others, but I hope the kind of conversations that I carry out on my blog are replicated face to face.

I don’t actually think it’s possible to maintain a facade on a blog – it’s a bit like a personality test where the same question is asked in lots of different ways. If you weren’t being genuine it would show through in the inconsistencies in the blog posts over period of time.

I believe that blogging is a window on the person. If someone has something to hide about their competence then blogging might not be for them.”

My reason for posting this was a conversation I had yesterday with John Connell about the process of finding your blogging voice. What we agreed was that you can’t fake it as a blogger – there are some people who start out keeping a blog and think they can use it to present a less than truthful account of what they think and how they behave.

My advice – for what it’s worth – to such people would be  don’t blog – you will always be caught out.

What people do need to be aware of is that it will take you some time to “find your authentic voice” and that blogging – like all new skills – needs practice and improves with familiarity.

Virtual Advisory Service

We have been exploring the development of a Virtual Advisory service with LTS. LTS are responding to requests from teachers and local authorities for some sort of personnel resource to replicate the subject advisory service of old. Subject advisers were traditionally employed to develop their subject in local authority schools. This model had much to commend and many outstanding Scottish educators have been subject advisers who have had a significant impact upon their curricular area.

There are two models being considered:

The first model tries to aligne itself with the traditional model of subject expert.  In this form the teacher would post a question on a website and await a response from a subject expert employed by LTS.  In due course the advice would be dispensed and the teacher would have their answer. For example a teacher might have particular query about how to teach an aspect of maths to P6 pupils.

The second model builds upon the practice which is emerging through the Exc-el experience. Here a group of teachers are asked to keep a blog and focus on a subject area – both at primary and secondary level. In the first instance this would create a community of learners who could share their practice and support each other. The ‘subject expert’ adopts a very different role from the first model in that they do not attempt to dispense advice but point people towards those who are tackling the same problem. The ‘expert’ asks questions, points toward resources, identifies emerging practice. In some ways this does pick up on one of the strengths of the old subject adviser system who often helped to develop very strong and successful networks of professionals dedicated to developing their subject.

So which model do I prefer – well that’s probably fairly obvious given my less than impartial description of the two. But If we take Craig Stebbing’s work as an example of what can be done in a subject liike maths – which is not known for creative approaches towards teaching and learning (apologies all maths teachers) – then I think we gain an insight on the future. 

My key point is that we don’t want to create a dependency culture where people’s problems will be ‘sorted’ by someone who  supposedly knows more than they do.  In some ways this just reaffirms the traditional approach we sometimes see in the classroom where learners all too often adopt an essentially passive role.

What do you think? – is there a need for subject expertise to be presented in the form of the first model? Should we try to develop the second model? Or are there combinations of the two models we might consider?