Scotland’s new Curriculum for Excellence is widely claimed to be transforming education in Scottish schools. This is, of course empirically debateable; centrally mandated curriculum development on this scale is notoriously difficult, as shown by decades of research literature on educational change. As Larry Cuban reminds us, schools change reforms as much as reforms change schools. In the case of CfE, these difficulties have been compounded by design and implementation issues (see for example http://hdl.handle.net/1893/2110 and http://tinyurl.com/cjnyfvx). Nonetheless, many would agree that the new curriculum is aspirational, with honest and well-intentioned goals of making such a transformation. Many would agree that CfE has a worthy aim of bringing the school curriculum up to date for the perceived needs of the 21st century – for citizenship and the workplace.

Such goals are clearly evident in the recent series of briefings published by Education Scotland to facilitate schools’ engagement with the new curriculum (http://tinyurl.com/c4qjhq7). Leaving aside the question of whether these briefings are helpful (they vary in quality and most are rather bland), I am struck by their continual use of what I consider to be unhelpful language. My view is that this language is both antithetical to the spirit of CfE and detrimental to its development. I refer here to what I term the language of delivery (something I mentioned briefly in a previous blog post – see http://tinyurl.com/7uvq86z).

Analysis of the goals and espoused methods of CfE would suggest that the new curriculum is inherently developmental, experiential and constructivist. There is a strong emphasis on enquiry-based methods. For example, the most recent briefing, Learning about Scotland, states that CfE ‘gives children and young people the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of Scotland and to explore issues, solve problems and reflect on the country in which they live and how it relates to the rest of the world’. The document stresses the importance of learning through engagement with outdoor contexts, suggesting that ‘it is only through engaging with what is around us that we can compare and contrast with other areas of Scotland and other countries’ (see http://tinyurl.com/bm694fc).

And yet, these documents, and other CfE publications, continually employ the language of delivery. For example, briefing 8, Curriculum Planning at the Senior Phase, states that ‘schools and their partners are exploring how to ensure they deliver the aims, purposes and entitlements’. It talks about delivering literacy and numeracy (see http://tinyurl.com/cuoahqo). Briefing 9, takes this a step further by saying that learning about Scotland provides opportunities for ‘applying learning coherently across the curriculum’.

I believe that this language is extremely problematic. It constructs education as a product to be delivered, rather than a process with clear goals. Education thus becomes something that is done to people. It potentially encourages box-ticking behaviour in schools, hard-pressed as they are, as they engage with the plethora of new approaches and ideas promoted by CfE. It perhaps reflects the implicit transmissionist philosophy of many teachers (see http://tinyurl.com/cjnyfvx), and indeed reinforces such views.  The notion of education as a product jars with the developmental, experiential and constructivist philosophy of CfE described above, and sends mixed messages about the goals of CfE and the best methods for achieving them.

I vividly remember an occasion in my own teaching career, in the early 1990s, when my Headteacher, faced with documentation for new GNVQ courses (replete with the language of delivery), said ‘what are we, bloody milkmen or something?’. That he found it worthy of comment, and that the language of delivery is largely unchallenged today speaks volumes about the extent to which the discourses of business have penetrated education in recent years. They are not helpful in my view, and they obscure the real business of education. So let’s dump the language of delivery, and let’s start thinking like educators rather than milkmen.

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4 thoughts on “Milkmen or educators? CfE and the language of delivery

  1. Great post Mark, I totally agree.

    I’ve often found contradictions in the language of CfE policy documents, which I suppose could be argued is the unavoidable consequence of having documents which are authored by many different people, and edited by many more. However, as you point out here some of these inconsistencies are actually at some crucial and fundamental levels which suggests to an incoherence as to what it is we’re actually trying to achieve.

    For me this is all arises from the reality that all stakeholders weren’t sufficiently and meaningfully brought on board at the outset of the change. Therefore there are a great many interpretations out there still, at all levels, as to what CfE is about.

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