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Canny watch on the curriculum revolution

THERE will be no mad rush towards a radical overhaul of the secondary curriculum in Aberdeenshire, which already sends 60 per cent of its pupils to university and college.

The council last week accepted a cautious plan for the next three years which involves reviewing the entire secondary curriculum but carefully balancing the benefits and disadvantages of change.

It rules out more rigid setting or streaming in S1 and S2 as "not appropriate" and questions if there is enough evidence to ditch current approaches. Schools should continue the common curriculum for nearly all pupils in mixed-ability classes until they are confident they have an accurate indication of attainment levels. Only then should they split classes by broad band setting in some courses.

A working group advises schools to guard against groups being dominated by gender and socio-economic status, although the authority accepts that some have split classes to improve boys' writing skills and encourage girls to choose subjects that open up their careers prospects.

The key to engaging pupils and pushing them on is "the quality of learning experiences created by teachers". The working group backs a variety of approaches, including paired, group and whole-class work, and recommends that schools use "ability groupings within mixed-ability classes" to preserve social benefits while meeting individual needs.

The authority wants to cut the number of subjects and teachers in front of pupils in S1 and S2 and end the fragmented curriculum. Little or nothing has been removed in the past few years, leaving some courses short of time.

Pupils often like the changes of subject and environment but this does "not necessarily equate with effective learning".

In S3 and S4, Aberdeenshire is equally circumspect in balancing the flexibility within national guidelines with existing practice. It accepts that for some pupils alternative approaches may be better. But, overall, "most S3-S4 learners have been well served by the broad and balanced curriculum".

Schools can relax age and stage restrictions but must be aware of the consequences for learners who switch school. "Similarly, the Foundation, General and Credit structure for most Standard grade courses offers a safety net not generally offered by National Qualifications courses," the authority states.

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