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The importance of learning

Claire O'Gallagher Claire O'Gallagher | 13:56 UK time, Friday, 26 November 2010

The major thing that struck me about Michael Gove's white paper on education reform was its title. To me, 'The Importance of Teaching' sounds a bit like one of those Victorian instruction manuals on propriety and efficiency. Perhaps that was a deliberate move by Mr Gove in these stringent times to evoke traditional and thrifty values.

The content of the document has been dissected and debated by the press over the last couple of days, but there's been little discussion of how the proposals stack up against the Curriculum for Excellence. Given that, under the previous Government, the now-defunct Department for Schools, Children and Families were looking to implement a creative curriculum based around the Rose Review, which shared a lot of theoretical ground with the Scottish curriculum, this feels like a severe parting of the waters.

The title gives the difference away. The proposals laid out in Mr Gove's white paper place a clear emphasis on the authority of teachers - in the foreword, for example, the Prime Minister and his deputy state that 'raising the status of teaching also requires a significant strengthening of teachers' authority in the classroom'.The Scottish curriculum too has given more powers to teachers - but in emphasising their 'professionalism' rather than their 'authority'. In fact, as Scottish teachers will possibly be weary of hearing, but English teachers may not be aware, in Scotland the firm intention is that the learner is at the centre. It's 'the importance of learning', not 'the importance of teaching'.

That's not to play down the dramatic importance of quality teaching, as the other striking divergence between the English and Scottish systems will be assessment. Marks will be allotted in English examinations for spelling and grammar, whereas internal assessment in Scotland has become about proving ability - whether that's making a film, or writing a report. Given the ongoing confusion about aspects of assessment in Scotland, it's interesting that our friends south of the border are returning to a traditional, exam-focused system.

There's plenty more, including the introduction of English Baccalaureates where academic subjects will be given prominence, raising questions about vocational education; funding for ex-servicemen to retrain as teachers; and changes to league tables.

This could, of course, serve to raise the voices of those already concerned about Curriculum for Excellence. Alternatively, Scottish teachers may look south and feel a little happier with their lot. Only time will tell how the different curricula fare, but in the meantime, where would you rather teach?


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