A Lack of Secure Knowledge

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Alas, all is not well in North Britain.  It used to be said, and not just by North Brittons it should be noted, that they did things differently up there, did them better – and did them yesterday; that is, before more benighted parts of the UK.  Not any more.  Whilst doing things differently has not gone out of fashion (far from it), doing them well certainly has.  Watching narrow-minded nationalists and sanctimonious Greens [*] in disarray has always been very diverting, and now it's a daily comic turn.

But there are serious aspects to their uselessness as a government and anyone living north of the border knows.  Schools are a good (ie bad) case in point.  Education Scotland, a quango, is conducting curriculum reviews following the 2021 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which found (unsurprisingly) that within the flagship Curriculum for Excellence programme, “the role of knowledge appears somewhat fragmented and left to interpretation at the school level”.  I say unsurprising because it was always the intention to play down the acquisition of knowledge (It's anti-progressive it seems).  This is something the Labour Party in England flirts with as well as we might soon be finding out.

Education Scotland’s review paper describes the wide spectrum in the knowledge of pupils at the end of primary school as “a potential barrier to progression” and said that a similar problem occurs when pupils move from their first three years of broad education at senior school to the exam years.  The report says the problems identified “could be addressed by providing greater clarity (and thus consistency) of what learners would be expected to know by the end of the primary stage.”

Dear me.  What a state of affairs.

In The Sunday Times, Lindsay Paterson, emeritus professor of education policy at Edinburgh University, described the report as dismaying.  He said:

“Pupils who arrive in secondary school without a sound grasp of the basics struggle to make adequate progress after that.  The basis of secure knowledge is still being severely neglected by the Scottish curriculum, despite numerous warnings stretching back for a decade and a half.  The curriculum has worthy aspirations — developing student’s confidence, stimulating their curiosity, providing the groundwork for adult citizenship. But these grand aims are vacuous without a much more rigorous attention to pupils’ secure knowledge.”

This is especially true of many students who do not have literate parents, or parents who value education and schools, and where the great issues of the day are not talked about round the dinner table.

The new First Ministerial team of all the talents has much to do.


[*] Sanctimoniousness is firmly rooted in Scotland's Presbyterian heritage.  Robert Burns' Holy Willie's Prayer probes its dark depths.  You can listen to Bill Shannon reciting it at the Dornoch Heritage Society's Burns Supper in 2023.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • While I'm sure that politicians use lots of 'experts' in deciding education policy, it still comes down to traditional thinkers (usually career bureaucrats) who make decisions based on what they perceive as the 'best' way to solve a problem. We hear a lot about 'thinking outside the box' but never about breaking the box apart and doing something uniquely different.