Curriculum development – what’s the best unit of change?

share the road by frankh.

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I’ve been invited to chair the ADES (Association of Directors of Education Scotland) Network for A Curriculum for Excellence (ACfE).

ADES represents the 32 Scottish Local Authority education departments. The role of the ADES network for ACfE is to support the implementation of ACfE, identify emerging issues and to work with the Scottish Government and Learning and Teaching Scotland .

The challenge facing us was highlighted last week at my most recent Listen and Learn Meeting when a secondary school maths teacher described how unprepared she felt for A Curriculum for Excellence. As we discussed the issue it became apparent that there is strong expectation amongst the profession for direction and materials.

I believe the key question in the implementation of ACfE to be “What is the key unit of change for curricular development?”

In past curricular developments in Scotland the key units of change have existed outwith the school. Government, HMI, National Committees, seconded teachers to writing and working groups, Local Authorities seconding staff, QIOs,  developing materials, running courses, controlling the implementation schedule. The essence of such development strategies relied upon the “Cascade”model which depended upon a “top-down” approach – although that appeared to be offset by a reliance on secondment of practitioners. This model was a key feature in the national implementation of Higher Still and Standard Grade.

As a person who was heavily involved in both of these developments – both as a teacher and manager – I would argue that the cascade model did not fully engage the majority of secondary school teachers in curriculum development which led to a significant change in their practice. in fact I would go so far as to suggest that it created a dependency culture amongst the profession which reinforced an expectation that curricular change was something that was “done to teachers”.

In implementing a Curriculum for Excellence we need to promote alternative models where the key unit of change resides within a community’s secondary school and partner primary schools. For such a change to happen a huge mind shift needs to take place amongst many of us who have been brought up with a quite opposite experience.

Local authorities have traditionally been the key interface between the Government and the schools in curricular change initiatives. The strategy of secondment gives the illusion of practitioner involvement and certainly seems to address the key concern from schools about not having enough time to “do” development work. The industry of curriculum development therefore resides outside schools – with the exception of limited projects which are trialed within “willing” schools. However, even such seeming “bottom-up” developments have their limitations

Richard Elmore, in his book School Reform from Inside Out: Policy, Practice and Performance suggests that most reform strategies are based on what he describes as the “true believers” who are already motivated and whose commitment is galvanised by concentrating them into small groups who reinforce each other – the bad news, as Elmore points out, is that these small groups of self-selected reformers apparently seldom influence their peers. And so I would suggest that “willing schools” who throughout the last thirty years have led the change process actually do no favours to the wider profession . 

Yet the “elephant in the room” which must be addressed is the vexed notion of TIME! How can schools implement an initiative without being given any more time for teachers to develop the courses, lessons or resources?

My first observation would be that we need to move away from seeing ACfE as something which requires a shift in terms of the content which already underpins our curriculum and more a shift in how we deliver and engage students with that self same content, i.e. we don’t need to develop more materials.

I also believe we need to completely revise how we conceptualise the  partnership and sharing process – on a quite a different scale from what we have known previously.  Our recent move to shift our school development planning process to a focus on outcomes– as opposed to processes – has released schools to develop their own solutions, as opposed to implementing our solutions.  It might seem like a small change but I think it can be translated into our approach to ACfE.

What “we” (local authorities, government, etc) need to demonstrate is the courage necessary not to intervene and to give schools the chance to work out their own solution to how they will fulfil an outcome. The role of those outwith schools then begins to take on a much clearer role – i.e. to help support schools, teachers and teams of teachers to share their emerging practice across Scotland. 

One of Scotland’s great strengths – as well as one of its weaknesses – is its size. Yet with the coming of GLOW   we at last have a means of linking up teachers to share their practice and the workload, as opposed to 32 authorities trying to manage their own schools’ development.

Here are my suggested questions for consideration by the ADES network:

  • What should be the key unit of curricular change?
  • How might we promote the school as the key unit of change?
  • What is the role of local authority staff in a model which sees schools as the key unit of change?
  • What models of support can we develop to enable change to take place in schools?
  • What peripheral aspects of local authority/HMIe practice need to change to enable the schools to operate in this manner?
  • How do we make best use of technology?
  • What are the key strategic links we need to establish e.g. SLS, AHDS, EIS, SSTA, ASC, LTS , parents?
  • What milestones can we identify for the implementation process?
  • What’s happening across Scotland’s 32 local authorities?
  • How can we create a culture which encourages schools to experiment with their practice?
  • How can we share real time examples of whats happening by providing a window on every schools in Scotland?
  • How might we collectively identify the barriers to successful implementation and adopt a solution focused approach to resolving them?
  • Can we identify implementation outcomes which would enable schools to operate creatively yet within an agreed framework or parameters?
  • How might we identify and share tangible examples of practice to engage teachers in the change process?
  • Can we collectively use our resources in a more focused manner?

2 thoughts on “Curriculum development – what’s the best unit of change?

  1. How can we ensure that practitioners are not subjected to the increased workload of planning for both 3-18 AND Curriculum for Excellence in order to satisfy their managers who do not know what will be expected of them come the Day of Judgement?

  2. First of all, congratulations on the new responsibility. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it and us blogreaders will learn more as you thrash issues out here.
    In my experience over the past year in leading a staff to grapple with the draft experiences and outcomes in Social Studies and in Health & Wellbeing, a few things have stood out and relate to your post of ACfE.
    1. 5- 14 has contributed to a reluctance in the teaching body to think about learning. We have been encouraged to take pre-ordained curriculum content and deliver. This approach has led us teachers to expect plans, materials and resources to be there for us to follow. Younger (teaching after 5-14 was established) teachers in particular are worried about how to go about creating cross cutting learning contexts that deliver broader outcomes for children. Older teachers remember how to do it but have become used to what we have to do.
    This is one of the areas of great protest as you have identified. I think it’s exciting and can be an opportunity for great creativity.
    2. You have identified one of the greatest barriers to unleashing this creativity. Lack of time to think, reflect, create alongside others. Good teachers can do this but not on top of the daily grind of having to deliver to the old 5-14 attainment outcomes in particular.
    3. Another big elephant in the room is Attainment. In some authorities, pressure to attain 5-14 levels causes many staff to restrict their experimentation and trial of ACfE. This needs to be seriously addressed by ADES, LTS, HMIE. In my school, we are concentrating on areas outwith those we are measured in (Reading, Writing and Maths) because of external pressures on 5-14 attainment.
    4 There are some experiences and outcomes that do require new resources and materials. In Health and Wellbeing, there are new areas of study for us. We need time to find appropriate resources. Much of it is not new but it’s too simple to say that we are already teaching all of this.
    5. Lastly, we collegiately created a new Learning theme for the whole school based on the draft Social Studies experiences and outcomes. We allocated time to do this and we did it in the new stages of early, first, second. Our first attempt at this resulted in most stages identifying similar learning experiences to achieve their identified outcomes. There was a dearth of pace and progression. We spent more time and sorted this out somewhat.
    However, I see this being magnified on a grander scale throughout Scotland. People working away on a micro scale, producing some work in an isolation that produces a lack of quality in terms of pace and progression.
    So another key question for a nation of teachers that are going to be creating their own local responses to ACfE is where is the national standard to be set, who determines the pace and progression when the draft experiences and outcomes are so broad?
    It’s a tough one and there is no fast solution.

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