Hugh Reilly: Ministerial sleight of hand plays CfE card
A conjuror pulling a rabbit out of a hat is a centuries-old trick. Quite why this small mammal was selected remains a Magic Circle secret.
Of course, it’s idle speculation but my best guess is possessing long ears that can be easily grabbed by a white-gloved performer probably saw off its bitter rival, the short-eared hamster, in the race to be a showbiz prop.
Last week, education secretary Mike Russell morphed into Paul Daniels by pulling a rabbit out of the hat when he announced £3.5 million worth of training and support materials to ease teachers’ concerns regarding the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Both he and his beautiful assistant, Debbie McGee, oops, incoming EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan, took a bow. Teachers liked it, not a lot, but they did like it. There was some disappointment that the demand of the EIS that CfE be postponed for one year was rejected. However, most chalkies were pleased that the Cabinet secretary has finally recognised that implementation of the new initiative is a source of much angst in many schools.
To be fair, it is something of a guessing-game to accurately gauge the number of teachers, subject departments and schools that are experiencing difficulties with the national examinations. Raising a hand and admitting one is drowning, not waving, requires the kind of guts and courage few teachers possess. Letters critical of CfE sent to the press invariably have “name and address supplied” appended to them. Sadly, in my experience, any classroom gladiator daft enough to have an “I am Spartacus” moment only elicits pointing fingers and cries from his colleagues of “Yep, he is Spartacus”.
As usual, the EIS and the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) are displaying brotherly love of the Cain and Abel variety. Flanagan has acted as Russell’s wing-man in the government’s attempt to calm the anxieties of panicking pedagogues whereas Ann Ballinger, head of the SSTA, speaks like Private Frazer regarding all matters CfE. “The crisis situation is widespread and not limited to ‘a few departments’,” she bewailed. We’re doomed, it seems.
Russell’s shiny trinkets to mesmerise restless classroom natives include two extra in-service days. This is a bold step when one considers the apoplectic state parents, politicians and elements of the media got into over a one-day strike last November. I fervently hope that these training days will be focused on practical aspects of implementation and not the usual smoke and mirrors drivel delivered by over-paid education consultants.
Any teacher still unimpressed with these new measures will be delighted to discover that there is, in theory, the possibility for schools and individual departments to delay introducing CfE exams. If the bog-standard additional support scheme doesn’t do the trick, a tailored support package will be put in place. If that fails to get things on track, the school may switch to Intermediate examinations, but only with the agreement of its local authority. As viable “get-out” clauses go, it is right up there with those found in the ante-bellum employment contracts of cotton-pickers on South Carolina plantations.
There is heavy irony that CfE now depends on centrally- produced materials to win over the teaching profession. For years, the authors of CfE evangelised the benefits of liberating teachers from the yoke of rigid syllabuses, but it is clear that most chalkies prefer writing teams to construct teaching resources.
A couple of decades ago, when SCOTVEC modules were all the rage, teachers were handed a three page “descriptor” stating the aims and outcomes of the course. Staff were expected to produce their own coursework and even create the final test papers. Due to excessive workload and the integrity-free nature of SCOTVEC, it was thrown under a bus in the Nineties.
In many ways, CfE is a resurrected form of SCOTVEC. For many secondary school teachers, it would be magic if CfE did a similar disappearing trick.
• In last week’s column I wrongly claimed that the deputy headmaster of Holyrood High School, Tony Begley, had taken an early retirement package to start work with the Mary’s Meals charity. I accept that Mr Begley did not retire or take any severance package and in fact accepted a much-reduced salary to work for the charity and I apologise for the upset this error caused.
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