Monday, February 26, 2007

Computing in A Curriculum for Excellence

Do we look convinced?
Do we look convinced?,
originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Last Friday, I was at an event for teachers of Business Education and teachers of Computing. Members of the Curriculum for Excellence development team were giving some information about the current position. It wasn't an easy meeting either for the teachers, who wanted (not unreasonably) more information than they got, or for the developers, who (again, not unreasonably) were at a relatively early stage in the development and were therefore unable to give too much information.

There are, it seems to me, a number of problems for secondary teachers with the Curriculum for Excellence. Not least is the grouping of subjects into "curriculum organisers", which we are repeated told are not "modes"! {What's in a name?} This means that the developers have to express their work in a way that suits all the subjects in that grouping ...while satisfying none of them. For example, Technologies covers "craft and design, engineering, graphics, food, textile and information technologies." - subjects divided by an uncommon language. Do pupils produce an item, an artifact, a product, ...

Another issue is the objectives the group are busy producing. It seems to me that these suffer from the same problems as the 5-14 strands and levels - you end up with fairly arbitrary distinctions between levels that don't always make sense. {Before giving an example, here is a health warning - I copied the objectives off the presentation and may have got them wrong... and anyway, the team said they were changing on an almost daily basis.} For example, a Level 2 objective (achieved by most pupils by primary 7... I think):
  • I can discuss and justify the selection of appropriate tools, equipment, materials and processes.
Whereas at level 3 (achieved at the start of secondary school):
  • I can apply technological proficiency to gain a sense of achievement and competency in the use of tools, equipment, materials or software applications when producing an item to meet design criteria.
The main difference was highlighted as: at level 2 they "explore" but at level 3 they "produce". Is it just me, or does anyone else see a problem with this distinction?

I am also worried by the complexity of the objectives. For example {with the same health warning as above} we were shown how an objective developed. The team are aware of the danger of objective overload and so are attempting to keep the number down to a reasonable minimum. This was illustrated by showing how two objectives:
  1. I can demonstrate the various ways to pay for goods and services
  2. I can understand the use of budgets for personal and financial planning
became one:
  1. I can reflect on the different ways in which organisations can raise money, pay for goods and services and plan for their financial future.
Now, surely that's just smoke and mirrors? We now have one objective but it a number of parts contained within. Has this really helped?

I feel bad about this post because it is so negative. I therefore want to emphasize again that I have nothing against the development team. If I was working under the same constraints I don't think I could do better. It's the system that's the problem not the people.

Final gripe... we were told that there were many possibilities for Business and Computing teachers because of the place of information technology in the documentation. {In the passing, is it significant that it is "information technology" rather than "information and communication technology"?} This is possibly true, but Computing is more than IT and I would like to think that we have more to offer young people than the simple transmission of basic IT skills.

My conclusions? My conclusion is that I'm confused. I can see that A Curriculum for Excellence has the potential to create a radical change in the way children learn in schools. I can even concede that this may not be a bad thing. However, as a subject specialist, I can't see how it will work in Secondary schools without a change completely what I do as a subject specialist - and change is scary! Also, I don't see how this radical change will come about without a willingness to change the SQA assessment system...and I see no political will to bring about that change. Finally, I worry that we will get bogged down arguing about words and objectives and end up with a disgruntled teaching force and no real change in classroom practice - a lose/lose situation if ever there was one.

Grief! This is a grumpy post. I've sat on it since Friday and I still think I want to post it... Tell me I'm wrong. Show me what I'm missing. Challenge me. What do you think?

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Anonymous said...

I understand and agree with your thoughts David with regards to the current exam system within secondary schools. The primary sector are desperate to implement the philosophy of the CfE. Another set of 'guidelines' as you describe will not encourage change at all.

Kenneth... said...

ajvgnI think you might be missing the big question in relation to a Curriculum for Excellence (aCfE, ACE, aC4E, CFE, etc).

Are these people really telling me that the curriculum I studied in the 80's and the curriculum pupils study now didn't produce - successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors?

Phrases like we need a curriculum that will prepare young people for an unknown future. Suggest that we were not prepared by our schooling for the Internet. The events of the future tend to be unknown so how on earth do you design a curriculum that prepares for the unknown?

That feels better; I've been bottling that up for too long.

David said...

Hello anonymous

I think it will be difficult to change practice in secondary schools without changing the exam system.

Hello Kenneth

Our education may have prepared us - successful products of the education system - but perhaps it wasn't as successful with every learner. However... that's not to say that ACfE will necessarily do any better. :-)

Joe said...

Might be worth having some input at

We do use a wide range of assessment methodologies but to date we have used these mainly in the vocational areas.

Please join the debate on Curriculum for Excellence and Core Skills for the Future

enrolment keys are "Excellence" and "Framework" respectively

All the best

Joe Wilson
Scottish Qualifications Authority