The Spectator reports that 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.
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.
In English, graphic novels crept their way into classrooms. Literature and media studies were fused. Presumably to cater for this, Penguin even published an emoji series of Shakespeare’s plays. This is new, certainly, but is it progress? Glaring ignorance of world geography or history is not just permissible, but expected. In history, for example, it’s normal for pupils to study the second world war year after year, and merely be assessed at different levels, constant assessment being the SNP’s only guarantee. The number of pupils studying French or German has halved.
My final teaching exam led me to cater my lesson to the 20 pupils in front of me, of whom 18 had various ‘additional support’ needs (autism, dyslexia etc). Trying to fulfil the curriculum’s bizarre demands on top of these challenges made my lesson a circus. In the end, I qualified. But I walked away from teacher training with a smoking habit and a resolution never to return. I later found out that four in ten newly qualified teachers leave the profession within a year. Which is a tragedy: all of my fellow trainees entered wanting to help pupils, as we had been helped. But it’s hard, once you find out that you’ll be taking part in the dumbing-down of a nation’s schools and the betrayal of its children.
In the staffroom of one school where I taught, there was a poster. It read, ‘Being a teacher is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. You’re on fire. Everything is on fire. And you’re in hell.’ Sometimes, on breaks between classes, I would sit and stare at it. I did not see the funny side; for the teachers, or for the pupils, who are the principal victims of a system that is so visibly failing.
Read the full article As a trainee teacher, I saw the damage the SNP is inflicting on Scottish education
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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