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Intermediate level is the way to stretch able pupils

David Henderson reports on what lies ahead for the growing trend towards curriculum flexibility in secondaries

TEACHERS sometimes patronise pupils by suggesting they are too immature to cope with National Qualifications in third and fourth year, Jim McVittie, head of St Ninian's High in East Renfrewshire, told the conference.

St Ninian's is one of the first secondaries to ditch Standard grade in favour of Intermediate levels and is already reporting gains across the ability range. There were fewer discipline problems and more pupils "in certain categories" were better motivated, Mr McVittie said.

The high-performing secondary had been able to offer popular courses like information systems in S3 and S4, replacing courses in computing.

All East Renfrewshire secondaries were likely to follow St Ninian's example of a revised 14-18 curriculum within three years, Mr McVittie said, not least because of high staying-on rates to S6 and the need to motivate pupils with a coherent, progressive curriculum over four years.

Mr McVittie, a member of the Howie committee which led to the Higher Still reforms, said that the demand for change stemmed from discussions with senior pupils over the past three years.

"Their message was unequivocal. 'Standard grade has not prepared us for what we are experiencing in fifth and sixth years. You should have made us work harder in third and fourth years because we had a wrong sense of our worth. We were complacent'."

Mr McVittie said that he could not ignore such a strong message and parents whose children had already been through the system and knew its weaknesses offered most support.

Teachers were backing the initiative after being given freedom to teach more appropriate courses. "Their reaction now is, what's the problem, what are people talking about," Mr McVittie said.

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