INSPECTORS have warned secondary schools there will be no curriculum "free for all" after Jack McConnell, the First Minister, signalled the end of the "one size fits all" model of comprehensive.
Any school, for example, that wants to ditch modern languages for some pupils at the end of S2 will be forced to justify its decision on "reasons of principle and not just reasons of expediency".
Kenneth Muir, lead inspector for secondary education, told a conference on curriculum flexibility in Glasgow last week that it does not mean taking "uncontrolled and irresponsible gambles with the future of our young people". The event was hosted by Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Scottish Executive.
HMI would pursue secondaries that dropped subject areas such as modern languages in favour of social, life or vocational skills. "There is an expectation that all schools will offer pupils their entitlement to study a modern language," Mr Muir said.
Inspectors would challenge heads to prove they were changing for the right reasons and "not just to mask areas of poor quality provision in the school about which little or nothing is being done".
In the same breath, Mr Muir reiterated that HMI had "no curricular compliance agenda" when evaluating schools and accepted some were cautious because of doubts about inspectors' response to their innovations.
As part of his balancing act, Mr Muir reminded heads they would have no option but to reconsider how the curriculum fits individual pupils.
"Passive acceptance of existing guidelines will not find favour in inspection," he cautioned.
HMI would look for measured and thoughtful approaches and would support those which met the innovation criteria set out in 2001.
Mr Muir repeated that innovation should lead to gain. "This gain could take the form of improved attainment; improvement in general achievement; improved attendance and discipline; improved pupil motivation, self-esteem, confidence and well-being; enhanced personal and social development; improved vocational preparation; or increased opportunities for further study and progression."
Schools, for example, were experimenting with National Qualifications courses further down the age range. But Mr Muir warned: "The straight replacement of Standard grade with new National Qualifications isn't always going to be appropriate in all subject and school circumstances."
Some secondaries were beginning Standard grade at the start of S2, some were relaxing age and stage regulations for small groups of able pupils in a few subjects and others were offering pre-vocational training through FE colleges.
Leader, page 24