Bill Scott's blog

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Curriculum for What?

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In the 1980s, it was commonplace for English governments to copy, rather uncritically, educational initiatives from the USA.  It was, I suppose, an example of post-cultural cringe.  Those days are long gone.

There is nothing necessary problematic about looking around to see what works, but the mistake that governments through the 80s made was to do all this too quickly; they tended to “borrow” (the verb they used) before evaluations had had the chance to illuminate faultlines and other structural problems. In many cases, we adopted an initiative just as the USA was abandoning it, having realised it was no good.

I was reminded of all this by a piece in last week’s Economist: Down in the valleys {*}.  This is an article about how the sorry state of Welsh schooling may well be about to get worse, even though that’s hard to imagine.  In an attempt boost its dismal PISA scores (I may have mentioned this a few times), and to catch up with English standards, the Welsh government, commendably, is trying (again) to fix this problem.  However, it seems to be basing its reforms on Scotland’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ just at the point where the wheels are falling off that wagon {**}.  The Welsh aim to free teachers to teach how they like, but, as the Economist notes, doing this “without first having raised standards is a risky approach”.

I’ll give the last word to the Welsh Inspectorate:

“… teaching is one of the weakest aspects of [educational] provision”.


{**} The purpose of Curriculum for Excellence was to foster four capacities in young people — to be: successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.  However data from the Scottish government late last year show that ~30% of pupils leave primary school without reaching the recommended levels of excellence in reading, writing, listening and talking.

{*} In 2012, The Economist had a report on the same subject.  Comparing the two articles does not give a sense of progress made.

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