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Negotiating the Curriculum

 
Update 22 Feb 2103

This page is for the attention of the website provider.  The text size on this 
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To the reader You cannot use this page unless you don't need the Contents listed on this page


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NATFHE Journal May/June 1984   

[National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education Journal  pp 20, 21, 23]

The article is presented for reading through first and then the links take readers straight to topics of specific interest. 

Researchers will find a tentative and explorative model of the H E curriculum 
here

Deeplist components can be added later.

 

 


 

This article deals with relations between the teacher and students within YTS [Youth Training Scheme] programmes in the context of hitherto undebated hidden negotiations between himself and several others. In this the teacher must be seen as a professional rather than just a person contracted to teach typing or welding or whatever.

Conflicts can and do arise within colleges and between the colleges and outside bodies such as the MSC [Manpower Services Commission] in its more judgmental guise. Both the MSC and managing agents should be more closely involved in college life for the good of the courses or schemes offered. This could lead to the notion of accountability being extended to such outside agencies. . . and not before time.

 

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When one reads the many booklets from the Manpower Services Commission and other written material offered in comment on what the MSC has produced. one can be forgiven for thinking that the learner and the teacher are the only agents involved in negotiating the curriculum. There is a real need to broaden discussion to cover the various other agents involved in that negotiation since each of them contributes a further paragraph of the small print in the final contract. 

While it is inappropriate to produce too many formal statements as to what the agreed curriculum may be, a too informal verbal contract between learner and teacher will - as the saying goes - be worth less than the paper it isn't written upon. In the following discussion we shall be exploring the propositions that negotiation is only possible when it does not matter what is taught; that negotiation is not confined to teachers and students; that social education is more than the sum of life skills and coping skills; and that technical teaching and social education cannot be taught separately all the time. 

In suggesting that negotiation only applies when it does not matter what is taught, we are contesting the basic assumption that the whole structure of examination certific­ates and diplomas is unsuitable for the lower forty per cent. The 'no-go' aspects of the printed examination syllabus are more clearly understood as not negotiable and, within the shorthand, may ultimately be called 'no-nego'. It is possible, as we know from time to time occurs, that if a letter is sent to the examination board it might one day be considered. This is a long process, involving committees, plenty of paperwork, and determination, but is part of the protection of the status quo. The 'given curriculum' formulated upon that syllabus is negotiable only at the margins, and here we are talking about resources used, timetables and other college considerations. The student's viewpoint is probably not considered in the average college, and both parties to this Common Lawcontract accept the situation. 

Those who have been unable to get onto such courses may look upon these constraints as missed opportunities and they may really prefer to be provided with a learning experience of greater significance than the one which they presently receive. The same kind of consideration applies to the certificate received at the end of the scheme - particularly if this is no more than a college certificate. Later on we can look at the idea of the protected curriculum where negotiation is only concerned with the tactics such as the pace of the teaching and, possibly, where the teaching takes place. 

In considering the parties with whom any negotiating takes place, we will start with the learner and move on to the various other interested parties. Can we sensibly ask the learner 'What is it you want to learn?' Often before this question can be asked, it is necessary to increase the ability of the learner to articulate his needs, and in order to be able to do that the teacher has to find ways of gaining his attention and cooperation. There is a vicious circle of demotivation to learn into which the teacher has to gain access. The disadvantaged learner may be conditioned into accepting his place in society in general and to the acceptance of the hierarchy of courses and his place at the bottom. He is no doubt aware of the socio-economic engineering that is going on and merely sets up a behavioural reaction to it. When this is manifested in resistance to self-improvement, to college, and/or industrial life on the placement, it is very difficult for the teacher and others to maintain a professional interest, and they may be forgiven for writing off the difficult cases. We can add in parenthesis here that there is a great need for staff development in this area and for the improvement in status of those involved in this type of work, which promotion goes a long way to providing. 

The teacher whose professional life focuses upon the YTS type of course must go through a process of negotiation with colleagues. 'Your students are being disruptive - why can't they be removed so that they do not contaminate my nice students?' The YTS teacher in the staffroom is at the sharp end of the negotiation which takes place between the college and this type of student over new levels of graffiti, standards of behaviour and the changed ethos of the 

p 20 

college enterprise. Ways must be found of improving the lot of the YTS teacher, and the appropriate status has already been mentioned. If all staff in the department were given an exposure to this kind of course and the problems presented by new kinds of students it could only foster a better understanding all round. 

Accepting that the MSC has been cast in the role of major change agent, it is taking teachers new to YTS work a long time to realise that there is a new dimension to the notion of accountability. The difficulty is increased if they are only used to being answerable to those with experience of the educational issues involved and in devising and operating courses. There is a great need for the MSC to sell itself more in terms of the qualifications it has to tell a teacher what is or what is not acceptable. (Perhaps an article as long as the present one could be written in response to that particular challenge!) 

In between the MSC and the college we find the Managing Agents; and some sympathy is forthcoming from both sides since they do act as the buffer. They have the difficult task of translating the goals set by the MSC into operational terms for the college. More debate is required on the issue of evaluating success in meeting any goals which are either stated or implied. Perhaps, so far, 'paying the piper' may have influenced what is going on in the college to the detriment of the young trainees There are new forces at work in accountability and the teacher will have to undergo a sea-change in order to cope with the idea that the student has only got to say to the Managing Agent that he does not like the teacher and see the latter's subsequent removal. 

And what negotiation is possible with the examination boards? Perhaps this is confined to a 'brochure-negotiation', i.e. choosing from the list of examinations whatever is most appropriate for the particular students or trainees to take. If it is confined to this activity there is a need to guard against saturating the commercial world with more people with conventional certificates such as are provided on mainstream courses. It is accepted that YTS is coping with numbers of young people with good school-leaving qualifications, but the YTS teacher has become used to dealing with far greater numbers of those who have not. There is an increase in the number of certificates available at sub-craft level and the range of certificates here needs to be widened even more. The practical application of the negotiated curriculum as far as the examination board is concerned in the teachers' involvement is devising the syllabus. If an increase is achieved in the range of formal certificates available and if this helps eliminate some useless college (attendance) certificates then something will have been accomplished.
 

Social Education

Turning the attention now to the idea that Social Education is more than life skills and coping skills being taught as one, we need to clarify here that life skills are the interactive elements of the real world and coping skills are the mechanical dimensions of this such as numeracy and literacy. The hierarchical approach within the college is to separate these activities, as opposed to devising an integrated curriculum. While it is possible and necessary to take these as separate subjects there is an even greater need to integrate them with the technical teaching. Technical teaching and social education can be taught very successfully on an integrated basis. One problem that may occur is that the Managing Agent wants to teach the life and coping skills on an off-job basis which gives the college a mere contract to teach a conventional subject in a 'social vacuum'. 

Let us look now at the negotiation which needs to take place over the curriculum content, and start with the learners. Are they capable of negotiation - is this negotiation more to do with the way in which the curriculum (agreed between the teacher and others as previously discussed) is taught and the speed at which it is covered? In the 'new milieu' they soon catch on to the idea that one word of complaint to the Managing Agent can have immediate effect. They also seem to know what other trainees or learners elsewhere in the college, on other schemes even, outside the college, are experiencing and are fully capable of articulating their position when it falls below what they see on the other side of the curricular fence. There will be easily forseeable consequences when all that is on the table is at worst a rigid, given curriculum, and at best a choice of one or two options which are no more than a watered-down version of mainstream courses operating elsewhere in the department or college. 

What does the teacher bring to the negotiating table? This may include clear ideas as to what the trainees ought to know in terms of the technical dimensions, and the social framework within which the teaching and learning will take place. He may come to the table with preconceived ideas of power and authority and set ideas on the subject matter as 'no-nego'. Perhaps his meeting the trainees half-way is limited to concessions relating to the pace and possibly the venue (visits?) of the learning activity. In the short term, there is the need to change the teacher's idea about the negotiability of the curriculum (teaching 'content') but it will take much longer to change his view relating to his own power and authority (approach) in the teaching situation. There are difficulties concerning rules about 'the contract' and sanctions which can be applied when the rules are broken by the trainee. As we have seen, the teacher may not receive all the co-operation expected from a variety of other people involved in the negotiating process. 

Is it a negotiation of value judgments? Has the curriculum been negotiated through the selection system so that all that is left over is the teaching of skills needed to cope with a life without work, at best work in the less worthwhile jobs?  Is it a matter of negotiation over different attitudes and expectations? How long can we go on accepting the curriculum as a statement of the relationship which the teacher has with his subject - as opposed to his trainees - where the factors influencing it are confined to available slots in the time-table and separately negotiated ad-hoc resources. (The teacher may well feel that he really is a separately-negotiated resource if he is part-time and tagged on to normal mainstream provision within the college). Is social control negotiable? Does the teacher have clear ideas in this area both personally and within the system, around him to be able to cope with surreptitious glue-sniffing in the workshop? While he has his own standards of behaviour and attitudes is he able to impose them upon trainees with different mores? 

Curriculum negotiation is a golden opportunity to demolish college departmental boundaries. The high walls which are built around the separate subjects screen off the learner from his interest in 

p 21 

overlapping and different disciplines and distance him from his learning potential. We should be moving from the situation where the technical teacher with vision needs to climb upon a pedestal in order to fulfil it. Perhaps the pedestal can only accommodate a few teachers with an objective view of their own capabilities, but who are striving to see the student as someone more than a name on a register. An integrated approach to organising the learning experience which involves the hitherto 'non-YTS' teacher will help remove the isolation which YTS teachers feel. Those with real insight and great determination will suffer these aspects for the greater benefit of their trainees. Many, however, will prefer to avoid such an obstacle course and proceed quickly to their room. 

Within the discussion so far there has been synonymity between the terms 'student' and 'trainee'. With probably greater concern now for the trainee, it can be said that profiling goes along way towards bridging the gap between the trainee's view of his own ability and expectations and the teacher's separate view. Perhaps it is here that the main negotiation takes place, and the teacher has a golden opportunity to establish what it is that the trainee wants out of the scheme he is following. If the profiling session is dominated, however, by the purely technical considerations, it may be that the teacher is unable to cope with the 'life problems' which may otherwise come up. The limitations in the situation are mainly concerned with the time available to have a one-to-one talk with a trainee. 


Staff Development

By no means least of the implications of the discussion is the question of the teacher's need to negotiate with the college over staff development. The need for him to have a clear idea of the abilities and expectations of the young worker in industry or commerce is paramount and can only be obtained by the teacher updating his industrial experience. The increased attention being paid to social education makes heavy demands upon the teacher who has now to go well beyond the technical dimensions of the teaching and learning situations.

If social education is concerned with development of personal values, the alignment of the trainee's or student's expectation with those which society holds for him, and making him become a predictable entity, then the average workshop teacher may feel that a week-long course will be required. If the technical teacher is going to have to cope with sex education, glue-sniffing, alcohol abuse, violence, drug abuse, and so on, he is going to require a new perspective of his situation. It needs to be stated quite firmly that previous programmes of general studies, liberal studies or whatever title the college uses to programme a separate teaching activity, are unacceptable to today's young trainees, and new approaches are therefore necessary. If the young person is able to relate to the technical teacher in terms of the subject-matter in which he is interested, it follows that such relationships are worth building upon in order to get over the message that someone is interested in the individual learner at this level.

 

 

Two gauntlets have been thrown on to the negotiating table. The MSC, for itself and perhaps for the Managing Agents, may respond to the challenge of expounding its ideology and explaining the grounds upon which it can judge educationists and teacher-technologists and the validity of the programmes which they may devise.

Those teachers who observe from the safety of the conventional classroom the changes and ways in which YTS teachers cope should take up the challenge of sharing a new type of teaching. In that way, we can all work towards  a worthwhile technical and social contract with those whom we share the learning situation.    

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