Balance has gone wrong in primary

Norman Strachan of Elgin Academy does not have the concerns that others have about the range of subjects in S1 and S2. He says: "We did some investigation into this, asking pupils what they thought. It's too easy to say they can't cope - generally speaking they seem to enjoy it. If they choose subjects without trying them beforehand, they are not making an informed choice. The motivation and liking aren't necessarily there and these are important factors affecting how they perform.

"In terms of making S1 and S2 challenging, the balance has gone wrong in primary with knock-on effects. We have more pupils coming into secondary who have problems with literacy and, to a lesser extent, with numeracy. There could be a concern that a disproportionate amount of time is spent on this less able group with its reading problems.

"My primary colleagues tell me they have less time to do basic literacy and numeracy because of the 5-14 guidelines. They used to be able to do literacy through environmental studies, but now inspectors expect them to do environmental studies for their own sake.

"There is a feeling that the situation would improve if primary staff were allowed to concentrate on literacy. We're ending up with specialist teachers in secondary, who don't have particular expertise in literacy skills, having to spend a lot of time on that and in primary, teachers trying to provide specialist skills without the same level of training.

"One area of concern is modern languages, to which lip service has been paid. You have to ask why, if they are serious about it, they don't introduce it into teacher training college. This is something that has been done on the cheap.

"It is a major problem which has not been recognised by educationists. There is meant to be a continuum of learning in modern languages from primary to secondary, but there is a wide disparity in experience among the pupils coming to us.

"We try to make the first and second years challenging by making some facilities for setting. Maths and modern languages are normally set, but in English and science children are not automatically set into ability groups across the board - it could be that there is one group of less able and the rest in mixed settings or an acceleration group and some mixed groups."

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