The case for changing the curriculum

image captionThe curriculum for excellence has been phased into schools

In three weeks time 55,000 pupils in Scotland will leave primary school and in August they will be the first wave of youngsters to be taught the curriculum for excellence in secondary school.

But what exactly is this new curriculum? Why has it become so controversial? In the first of three reports BBC Scotland's education correspondent, Seonag MacKinnon, examines the case for change.

Two maths teachers once told me the first time they ever had to put their skills to practical use was in retirement.

They were in their new home in the Highlands and had to calculate the amount of curtain material needed for irregular shaped windows.

Even they seemed to wonder sometimes why youngsters were being taught subjects such as trigonometry and calculus.

Six years ago leading figures in education called for lessons in which there is an emphasis on learning skills and information which can be applied in the real world.

The cross party parliamentary grouping which included Mike Russell the Education secretary, then an opposition MSP, said after much deliberation that they also wanted to see lessons with more depth.

They argued one of the main weaknesses of the present curriculum was that it was a mile wide and an inch deep.

Pupils skate over the surface of a large amount of information, they said, and then memorise it to regurgitate it in essays and exams.

Within months young people may have largely forgotten much of what they studied.

Peter Peacock, then education minister, was persuaded to authorise pared- down, more relevant lessons.

Some teachers argued weaknesses of the status quo had been exaggerated but on the whole the profession was behind the plan.

Since then the changes branded by the government as the "curriculum for excellence" have been phased into schools.

As the move to more hands-on and informal lessons had not constituted much of a revolution for primaries the change in this sector had been largely untroubled and was well under way.

From August all primary - and secondary schools - are expected to be operating the new curriculum although the government said it was likely to be phased in over months and years.

The goal is lessons with more depth and relevance.

Basic reading

But another objective is to tackle the taciturn, passive role many pupils play in class.

Employers and the wider world have often complained of school leavers' limited ability to communicate with colleagues, bosses and clients and a limited ability to work effectively in a team.

And there have been many complaints that pupils struggle with basic reading, writing and numeracy.

Campaigners also say that in state schools only a minority seem to have a rounded education

Of late, if activities such as First Aid lessons and Duke of Edinburgh award schemes have been taking place at all, they have tended to be after school and attended only by those who stay behind.

The above is a summary of the case made for changing the curriculum.

Questions remain. Are the changes being properly implemented? Is there any real evidence they'll work? And at any level are we taking a gamble with children's future.

In my second piece I will explore some of these issues.

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