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National priorities will set out new yardstick

MINISTERS have issued their usual mantra that "exam performance is important but does not represent the whole picture of a school's achievements". Or words to that effect.

Cathy Jamieson is the latest to try the balancing act. The Education Minister told the national education conference earlier this month, organised by The TES Scotland and Edinburgh City Council, that exam results were important as "the main currency for young people" but that schools had to produce more rounded youngsters who "arguably now more than ever need more than just narrow subject-based knowledge".

The Scottish Executive at last has a vehicle for broadening the yardsticks for measuring school performance: the five national priorities for education which have to be implemented by councils through "local improvement plans".

The first of the priorities concerns achievement and attainment and focuses mainly on how well pupils have done by the end of sixth year, in terms of Standard grades and National Qualifications, rather than in fourth or fifth year.

There are literacy and numeracy targets from P3 to S6, by which time pupils will be expected to leave school with at least a Standard grade 6 in English and maths.

An emphasis is being placed on improving the average "tariff score" of the lowest attaining fourth-year pupils in each authority. This is certain to be a major focus of the new drive by HMI to come to the aid of "struggling" schools, details of which were revealed in an interview with The TES Scotland last week by Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of schools.

The priorities also include keeping a watch on the proportion of pupils achieving success in core skills such as working with others and problem-solving.

Among other measures are:

* The number of pupils taking part in buddying or mentoring schemes.

* The proportion of schools classified as health promoting.

* Whether schools have a quality award.

* The percentage of schools adopting the new community school approach.

* The time spent by pupils with special needs in special units and mainstream classes.

* The extent to which pupils participate in cultural, sporting and learning activities outside the main curriculum.

* The range of education offered for work and enterprise.

Measures are still being worked on to track levels of ambition and creativity in pupils and the development of citizenship education.

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