Madeleine Kearns

Class struggle

Once one of the best in the world, Scotland’s education system has been steadily marching backwards for the past ten years. From the outside, it seems baffling: why, given that Scottish spending per pupil is among the highest in the world, are things going so wrong? From the inside, it’s far easier to understand. You can explain it in three words: Curriculum for Excellence.

I’d heard stories about it before I started training as a teacher. By the time I qualified — in April last year — how I wished I’d listened to them. The story starts in 2010, when the new system was introduced with four aims: to create ‘confident individuals’, ‘successful learners’, ‘responsible citizens’ and ‘effective contributors’. Perhaps the meaning of these phrases was clear to those who came up with them. But as I found out, many teachers can’t recall — let alone explain — them.

Picture a grey Glasgow sky and underneath, a cosy school staffroom. ‘What are they called again? Successful contributors? Effective learners?’ one teacher with 30 years’ experience asks. ‘No, no. It is the learners who are successful; the contributors are effective!’ a student teacher replies helpfully.

The idea of teaching had been turned on its head. Rather than stick to a topic — like English or chemistry — we had to mix them up according to a bizarre formula created in the devolved parliament. In 1999, the new MSPs had been given power over the school system — so decided to use it. When the SNP came to power, the shake-up began. Devolution made a nation’s children into guinea pigs.

So instead of straightforward maths lessons, we’d have ‘interdisciplinary learning’. Bar charts would be shoehorned into lessons about Shakespeare. For a teacher to perform ‘active learning’, the ‘learners’ had to be constantly entertained.

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