Leaders: Price for improvement one worth paying

One of the most important jobs of government is ensuring school pupils get the best start in life. Picture: AP
One of the most important jobs of government is ensuring school pupils get the best start in life. Picture: AP
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GIVING school pupils the best opportunity they can have to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills they need to make the best start in life is one of the most important jobs of government.

The Scottish Government’s announcement that it is to spend an extra £5 million looks to be the right approach to ensuring that this goal is achieved.

Surveys by the teaching unions have repeatedly shown that a majority of teachers do not feel confident that they are properly prepared not just to deliver the course material for the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) but to assess the results of the national examinations that test pupils’ achievement levels.

It is fair to say that the CfE demands a lot of teachers. It is not simply a matter of new material in the courses being studied that has to be absorbed, but also the different approach to presenting the material which makes the CfE difficult.

For both teaching, and assessment, a different mindset to that which teachers have been long accustomed is required so alarm and perhaps even a degree of bewilderment on their part is understandable.

A cynical view might be that the Scottish Government, aware that its all important referendum vote is due later this year, is paying out money to appease teachers and keep them quiet.

That would, however, be an unworthy accusation. The teaching unions had sought to have the change postponed for a year. Although one local authority agreed, the Scottish Government refused, indicating that it is not prepared to give teachers every thing their union leaders demand.

Instead it has chosen to finance more preparation work and time, aimed at ensuring that things go well when the first candidates sit the new exams in this spring. It would have been entirely wrong if this first cohort of pupils had been disadvantaged because their teachers had not had enough preparation time to present and assess them properly. So this looks like the right response by the government.

Of course, the fruits of the CfE have yet to appear. This is a curriculum which is intended to provide pupils with skills which are better matched to the demands of modern life and the economy. Whether it does that job is yet to be tested and the results which come from the first examinations are only the beginning of that process.

A critical part of getting assessments right is that pupils across all Scotland are judged by the same criteria and that no group suffers from what may look like poor results but which are actually caused by unevenness in marking.

These assessments are not simply a matter of totting up marks, they ask teachers to make judgments and making sure such judgments are of a uniform rigour is a difficult task. Paying £5m to get that right is a good decision.

Champagne performance on ice

CURLING would not be the first choice for many as a sport liable to capture the nation’s imagination. It is played slowly and deliberately and lacks the speed and instant excitement of most other sports.

But as a tension-builder, it is hard to match – watching those final moments as a stone is released, as the hope or fear grows that its long slide across the ice will end at precisely the right place, resulting in high exultation or deep disappointment.

That was the way it went for the men and women’s GB teams as they progressed to the final medal-deciding games. Both captains produced scintillating final throws at crucial moments to secure victory and a place in the nation’s heart.

The medals they did deservedly win are bitter sweet. Of course, to secure any Olympic medal is a terrific achievement. Many aspire to such heights, but only a few are destined to reach them. And after the astonishing precision they showed in the earlier rounds, there was real expectation they could win gold.

But the Olympics are where the best of the best compete, and Canada’s rink simply excelled, capitalising on the very minor mistakes that David Murdoch and his men made.

So commiserations, but many, many more congratulations to the men for their silver medal and to Eve Muirhead and her team-mates for their bronze. Not just Lockerbie, which revels in having produced three of the curling team members including Mr Murdoch, but all Scotland and Britain, are proud of you.

Even more promising, the teams are also young enough to improve. We look forward to being on the edge of our seats again in South Korea in 2018.