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Middle schools poised to make a comeback

ONE of the most famous failed experiments in Scottish education may be on the point of being revived, but Aberdeenshire is promising a radically different slant.

Middle schools, pioneered in Grangemouth for some years as an answer to the primary-secondary divide, will be one of the solutions on which the council will shortly begin to hold public consultations.

Michael White, its director of education, insists, however, that the whole approach to middle schools would need to be broader. A major overhaul of teacher

training, registration and - in some cases - mindset would

be essential.

Mr White said: "The difference between the primary and secondary sectors is marked and the 5-14 programme has not succeeded in addressing fundamental issues."

The council's review of primary education identifies the primary-secondary link as the major priority for change. "There are quotes from reports in 1947 that refer

to the primary-secondary gap as

a prevailing fault. It's prevailed one hell of a long time," Mr White commented.

He said the mistake of the Grangemouth middle schools, which covered the years from primary 6 to secondary 2, was that secondary teachers had been brought into what was basically an extra two years tacked on to primary, "a kind of P8 and P9".

"Look at it the other way round, taking primary teachers into the first two years of secondary and continuing an integrated approach to the curriculum. Now you wouldn't want to have one teacher teaching the whole of the S1-S2 curriculum. You would have a core group of techers and then you would have specialists added on to that. In the primary school they have visiting specialists.

"What this would entail would be reversing it and actually having residential specialists who enrich the team in S1 and S2 to try to promote a greater integration in all subjects, especially on sciences and social subjects."

Integration, Mr White says, works both ways, and there is a need to introduce children in the upper primary years to a wider range of teachers, but not as many as 16. "I can't believe that something magical happens to children between the June of one year and the August of next, where their minds - their brains - develop in such an incredible way that they have got to have their learning process divided up into 16 chunks."

A truly integrated approach would require a smaller core team. "You would have people who had an integrated approach and you would also have people with a subject specialism, but they are working together and they are not working exclusively with younger children or older children," he said.

"And of course it opens up the doors at either end to the former secondary school and the former primary school. Because if you are taking older children away from the primary school you can then bring in younger children at the early stages and you can have greater nursery and pre-school provision."

Setting up a trial middle school is not seen by Aberdeenshire's director as a major problem. He has identified a couple of rural townships where it would be possible, given goodwill on all sides.

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