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A new age of learning

Keith Grammar may be responsible for breathing new life into moves to abolish age restrictions on when pupils can sit exams.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, took the opportunity of a visit to the school on Monday to announce that there would be a review of whether the current "age and stage" restrictions should be replaced. The Scottish Executive said later that a consultation paper would be launched on March 11.

Three years ago, the 520-pupil Morayshire school became one of the first in Scotland to openly embrace the "flexibility" in the curriculum being demanded by ministers when it allowed all pupils to start Standard grade courses in S2, and to take the exam in S3. From 2005, the Higher will become an S4-S5 course.

Mr Peacock was clearly impressed by the possibilities of change. He suggested that the Keith Grammar approach "could help to prevent the dip in attainment which traditionally occurs in S1 and S2, as well as allowing senior pupils to work at their own pace and, possibly, enjoy links with higher or further education".

The minister hinted at his support for abolishing age and stage restrictions when he said: "We must ensure that bureaucracy does not prevent schools embracing flexible solutions."

Regulations were originally introduced to prevent children sitting exams before they were mature enough. They were relaxed initially last August, allowing schools to apply for groups of pupils to sit exams earlier rather than seeking permission for individual pupils. The interim measure will be extended to cover the next school session.

Concern that pupils might be entered for exams before they are ready could be covered by guidance issued from the Executive to replace the regulations. That is one of five options to be canvassed in next week's consultation paper.

The others are maintaining the status quo, reverting to the position before last year's change, amending the regulations to allow Intermediate exams to be taken in S3 and outright abolition without any guidance.

Any move to bring Intermediate courses into the S2-S3 stages would be a major boost and put Intermediate courses on an equal footing with Standard grade, the future of which continues to be questioned.

Keith Grammar began its initiative by adapting the 5-14 curriculum for S1 and the early stages of Standard grade courses so that pupils were ready for Standard grade by S2.

Brenda Gifford, the depute head, told The TES Scotland - which featured the school's approach on January 9 - that the aim had been to prepare pupils for Standard grade as effectively as possible "without overlap, repetition or demotivation", all which were apparent by S2.

Mrs Gifford believes that the change has already had a number of spin-offs, including better behaviour and an improved pace of learning. "Staff have greater expectations and pupils are responding positively. The quality of the courses is better and staff are more enthusiastic."

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