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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Something under the bed is drooling...



There are days when your heart bleeds for some people. Today was one of those days.

Today I attended ‘day one’ of the Biennial Head Teachers conference in the Royal Hotel, Oban. The guest speaker for the day was Professor Gabrielle Matters, from Queensland, Australia.

Her subject was ‘New Basics’ – one of the most fascinating projects to be undertaken in education in the last decade. Begun by Allan Luke (please check out what Allan Luke has to say on the National Priorities website), the project addressed the most fundamental questions we should be tackling in education – namely what should we be teaching, how should it be taught, and how will our pupils show they have learnt?

I won’t do New Basics or Gabrielle the disservice of summing up the huge project here, but please go and read about it here - www.education.qld.gov.au/corporate/newbasics

Some of the concerns she raised are clearly global concerns, and I particularly liked the initial findings that intellectual content was low, but moral was high – “Happy little people walking around who knew nothing” – is this a concern that should resonate with us? When I was teaching Higher Philosophy I was appalled to find that good students had no understanding of a historical timeline on which to place events, and could only really tell me about National Socialism in Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s and coal mining in 19th century Scotland. Fascinating though they are, if pupils cannot contextualise this information, then we have fundamentally missed the point (– and I say this as a qualified teacher of History incidentally).

So why did my heart bleed today? Probably a combination of things, but for us to make any sense of New Basics, we would have had to have some sound prior knowledge of the Curriculum Organisers, Productive Pedagogies and Rich Tasks. What would have helped? Prior to the conference, some literature or at least the URL. In order for today not to be a complete waste of time, then we now need professional debate and dialogue about New Basics and what it means in context, and how we can learn from their experiences here in Argyll & Bute. I would urge all of you to look at the Queensland website.

What was positive about today? It is so refreshing to hear someone who is not afraid to point out bad news or negative results. Whilst there were many positives from New Basics, there were substantial negatives. Far better to face them, than to shove them under the carpet. In discussion in the afternoon, it was pointed out that in the majority of our primary schools we already do what amounts to ‘rich tasks’ or ‘project based learning’, so let’s not start thinking about throwing the baby out with the bath water. And let’s please not drown in ‘another initiative’.

Most importantly? Research and change has to be adequately funded. If we are to accommodate any new initiative in school, it has to be well funded and managed, not just ‘distributed’? More on this tomorrow, I suspect.

The final word for today has to be ‘transmogrified’ – I immediately thought of ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ (hence today’s title and picture), but can we concentrate on its’ meaning? Change in surprising ways.

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