Was reading a recent academic paper which seeks to understand the philosphical rationale for the Curriculum for Excellence. In it, the authors Walter Humes and Mark Priestly, sceptics of CfE, decry its seeming lack of reference or adherence to any specific and coherent philosphy of curriculum design, contending that CfE is a confusing mesh of three “archetypes” curricular models : content, product and process. The role of Education is seem respectively as “transmission”, “instrument” and “development”.
Humes and Priestly see the major flaw being that we have a curriculum which is ostensibly “process based” being made to fit into “product” model, with a strong sequential structure, based on specific levels. CfE, in their opinion is ahistoric and atheoretical. It seems to be a curriculum with no memory and no sense of theoretical context.

Well and good; however, I am not sure that their writing will resonate swiftly and clearly with teachers eager for a brief and pithy precis of the shortcomings of CfE, shot through with the kind of deadening academic language that I find surprising from such writers.

How memorable will teachers find this:

“We argue that CfE is an uneasy mixture…, being essentially a mastery curriculum dressed up in the language of the process model. The issue seems to be a lack of conceptual clarity. The three archetypes co-exist in considerable tension, simultaneously taking a view of knowledge as being something constructed by learners on the one hand and being a prespecified, essentialist body of knowledge to be acquired and tested on the other hand. The operational end of CfE is thus arguably inimical to the underlying purposes of the curriculum as expressed in the four capacities. There are thus tensions between convergent and divergent modes of learning, between teleological and open ended conceptions of education, which may be unhelpful to the process of enactment in the classroom.”


A C Grayling on Education

The philospher AC Grayling is perhaps best known for his trenchant criticisms of religion and faith. One sentence from an article he wrote in the Telegraph makes his position pretty clear: “Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies.”
But his writimng covers many fields, as befits a philosopher and public intellectual, and he has some cogent, but at times controversial obervations on education.

In “Education and Gender Difference”, Grayling takes recent GCSE results as his starting point for an essay that examines several strands of education that he feels need addressing:

1. There are gender specific differences in the ways boys and girls benefit from education: “girls are doing better than boys at A Level and GCSE”; “young women get fewer Firsts at Oxford than young men”; “pupils perform better when segregated into single-sex classes”
2. The move towards coursework disproportionately benefits girls. End of term exams favour boys.
3. Parents help pupils condiserably with coursework; this has a distorting upwards impact on grades. It also makes it harder to determine what the base level of intellect and cultural is.
4. Courses are too easy and accessible; there is insufficent depth and challenge. Hence, boredom sets in.

he recommends:

1. Both sexes should be subject to both forms of assessment, ie exam and coursework. A pupil’s best marks should then be the ones that determine future progress.
2. Mixed-sex classes for adolescents are not invariably a good idea.The sexes suffer deficits in learning as a result, with different ways of compensating for them; girls are more likely to make up lost ground later in homework, and therefore suffer marginally less from the knock-on effect of inattention in class. Since most subjects are learned cumulatively, lacunae in knowledge offered in earlier classes make learning in later classes more difficult.
3. Focus on the 3Rs at Primary; adolescents should be free to choose whether to stay at school or work thereafter; and the schools and university should be open to all who, later, wish to profit from them.

It is worth noting that some schools do acknowledge the different learning styles and needs of boys and girls, adopting the so-called diamond system, whereby the sexes start and end school together in Primary and Sixth Year, but diverge into separate streams for boys and girls from S1 to S5. Stewarts Melville, in Edinburgh adopts this approach. See also Dame Alleyns School.

As regards giving adolescents the oportunity to leave school, then this is part of the Scottish Conservative manifesto which aims to reduce school leaving age to 14.

“not all youngsters are suited to further or higher education, and should have the option of taking up an apprenticeship or vocational training if they want to.”……the policy would ensure pupils would not be “wasting their time” in the classroom until they were old enough to leave at 16, and a new generation of plumbers, welders and joiners would benefit the country as a whole in the long run.