There is No Beginning

There is no beginning. We saw Lewis

laid down, when there was not much but thunder

and volcanic fires; watched long seas plunder

faults; laughed as Staffa cooled…

(From ‘Slate’ by Edwin Morgan)

 My National 5 class are working on ‘Slate’ this week as part of their compulsory Scottish text study. Edwin Morgan wrote it in 1979, in the light of the last Independence referendum. We Scots voted for Independence but, apparently, not enough of us. It is a poem, I think,  about the difficulties of change while accepting that change has always been with us. It is a poem about persistence over time. It is never easy, often damaging, but always leaves something better in its wake. I think.  After attending the Higher English Implementation meeting with the SQA today, I can see some parallels.morgan2

While we’ll see a new Advanced Higher course in the next year or two, Higher English implementation may be seen as the final piece of a very big, 3-18 jigsaw. The new curriculum has been changing for years but the final assessments – the last ‘exam’ most pupils will sit in English – will be in place for most next year. Like “‘Slate’ it’ll be a bumpy ride. However, I saw some real progress today; progress towards an education system I want to be a part of; an Education system that sees assessment as an ongoing process, allowing more autonomy for the teacher. Eventually.

We often forget that we have not merely been transforming parts of our education system over the last ten years; it is not about changing exam systems or transition between primary and secondary or early years. It is a huge transformation of education from ages 3-18; and that has never been done before. It is a move towards a more equitable system; a move away from a system where those who are the best at passing exams prevail. There are many who are concerned by that change; perhaps they are more secure with the way things were; perhaps they feel that change is happening too soon. I get that. But when I step away from my own personal concerns –  the things I am dealing with in the classroom on a day-to-day basis – and look at the bigger picture, I can see the dust settling and a better land in its place.

Morgan recognises ‘thunder and volcanic fires’ as Scotland settled into the form it has become. We certainly have that. Staffrooms are split over the new changes. The negative media reports on the Curriculum certainly don’t help with parental involvement and support. There are troubling things happening as implementation occurs. However, there are many, many more good things. Let’s talk them up. Let’s make it our professional duty to do so. You many only see ‘the sorry glory of a rainbow’ but it’s there and it’s beautiful.

Morgan starts his poem with ‘There is no beginning.’ He is right. Our education system has constantly changed and constantly come up against resistance as it does so. There are still loads of questions and, perhaps, we won’t find the answers for some time. Brian Boyd’s paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, released on Monday, certainly paves the way. I started to see the progression of courses today and to understand how I can raise the bar and challenge my classes to achieve. There is no beginning. There was no beginning. Let’s now make sure we do it right.

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