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Left bewildered by exams contradiction

I am frankly bewildered by the Education Secretary's recent pronouncement on early presentation, as reported in The TESS on November 5.

My school spent a great deal of time on consulting and planning with all those affected before adopting a curriculum structure in which Standard grades are now taken in S3 and the senior school has effectively become S4-6 - an approach commended by HMIE.

Our first S3 cohort sat their exams in 2009. It is too early to judge the success of the entire curriculum structure, but what can be said is that we have improved the school's percentages at levels 3 and 4 benchmarks; there will be more presentations at Higher in S5 in 2011 than in previous years; and pupils who opted to leave at the end of S4 in 2010 did so with better qualifications than their predecessors. The experience has been a positive one, but it has been necessarily short-lived.

We have now abandoned the policy, based on the explicit official statements in Building the Curriculum 3 (2008) that decisions about early presentation "must be made in the best interests of an individual pupil - not classes, cohorts or year groups ... If necessary, the Scottish Government will strengthen the existing guidance on when young people can be presented for National Qualifications andor arrange for age and stage regulations to be introduced to reinforce this policy".

These are probably among the most unequivocal sentences in Curriculum for Excellence documentation, which is not renowned for such unambiguity. Yet Michael Russell now appears to be telling those of us who understood that early presentation was so "forbidden" and "wrong" that it would, if required, be legally proscribed, that we were labouring under a misinterpretation.

At this stage in curriculum development, where we are focusing on S2-3, we have already told current S1 pupils that they will not be sitting exams in S3. What else, in light of BtC3, could we tell them? I cannot now, in all conscience and in light of the apparent flexibility offered by the Education Secretary, go back and tell them, much as I might like to, that the situation has changed. That wouldn't be planned and consultative curriculum planning but, rather, would represent a volte-face with which I would not wish to be associated.

JM Simpson, headteacher, Leith Academy, Edinburgh.

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