Crunch time is nigh for the 'groundbreakers'

The way education is organised at present is indefensible, with artificial boundaries between the different stages - primary and secondary, and secondary and further or higher education.

This is the view of Keir Bloomer, a Scottish educationalist and one of the architects of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). But proposals for a radical change to the structure of schooling in Dumfries are attempting to correct that model, he believes.

It was Mr Bloomer who helped to carry out the original review of education in Dumfries which led to the proposal that the town's four existing secondaries should educate pupils only up to S3, working closely with primaries, and that a "senior phase" school should be built on a campus alongside FE and HE.

Four years on, the council will decide next month whether it wants to take the idea - known as option 2 - any further.

A more conventional solution when faced with underoccupied schools in poor condition would have been closure and merger. But the authority opted to be innovative and create a structure more fitted to CfE, with its broad general education up to S3. Option 2 will also make transitions smoother and give pupils in the senior phase more choice, particularly in relation to vocational subjects, it is argued. The changes have caught the eye of education secretary Michael Russell, who cited them as a good example of "new thinking" in a recent speech - something that there needs to be more of in Scotland, he argued.

The Scottish government has agreed to help fund the senior-phase school if it goes ahead, describing the council's proposals as "groundbreaking".

Yet option 2 remains a tough sell. While Dumfries' schools may be tired and too large, they are certainly not failing, in which case the local authority's director of education Colin Grant will need to persuade staff and parents that something needs fixing, even though it isn't broke. His argument: it's not enough to be doing well if you could be doing better.

Secondary teachers - on whom the plans will have the biggest impact - are not blind to the potential benefits of option 2 for pupils. One told TESS that, as a parent, she would prefer it, but was unable to sign up to a plan that would mean the school lost its senior students. She prefers one of the alternatives on the table, which would result in the existing secondaries continuing to educate pupils up to S6 but with enhanced links to primary, and a common timetable for all senior-phase pupils. But that option would mean #163;24 million being invested in schooling in the town - rather than #163;41 million - and no senior-phase school sharing a campus with FE and HE.

The consideration at the forefront of councillors' minds when they vote on 27 June must be not what is in the best interests of teachers in Dumfries, but what is best for the children., TESS reporter.

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