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Borders backs right to choose

A junior stage confined to S1, middle years from S2 to S3 and an upper school from S4-S6 are all part of Scottish Borders' plans to transform secondary education.

On the back of the Scottish Executive's outline scheme for curriculum reform, Borders this week added more precise detail and direction for its nine secondaries. While it offers a firm steer, it will be left to individual schools to determine their exact pattern.

The number of compulsory subjects drops from nine to five to allow pupils more choice and freedom. Only English, mathematics, religious and moral education, physical education and personal and social development will be mandatory up to the end of middle school. A majority of pupils are expected to continue the traditional pattern of nine subjects.

Like other authorities, Borders acknowledges the entitlement to 500 hours of language learning up to the end of S4 but points out that "pupils may opt not to avail themselves totally of this entitlement".

It leaves choice of Standard grade, Intermediate or Access courses to individual schools.

The authority favours a common course in S1 and course choice at the end of S1, although it accepts there are considerable timetable implications. A phased introduction of middle school subjects in S2, starting with English and maths, may be one option.

Setting and mixed-ability and single-sex classes are "all acceptable" but streaming is not.

From S4, pupils would study "appropriate courses" over a two-year, five-term time-scale. "The current, much-criticised two-term dash in fifth year would be avoided, although for some pupils this may remain a possibility," the review group concludes.

Early leavers would be offered extended work placements and part-time attendance at Borders College. Aspects of apprenticeship could be started in this "new" fourth year.

* Benchmarking attainment on a sample of schools will be ineffective, Stirling Council has warned the Executive.

Ministers want to introduce a Scottish Survey of Achievement based on a limited number of pupils. But Stirling cautions about the unreliability of making such comparisons across authorities.

It will continue to gather evidence from three sources: 5-14 test data, the Edinburgh Reading Test and the NFER maths test.

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