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No 'radical surgery' for 5-14

Senior chief inspector of schools says existing framework can stop slide in pupil progress

HMI's report on the first two years of secondary, due at the end of this month, will not recommend "radical surgery". Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools, made the announcement in a wide-ranging speech last week in which he also warned schools that learning must be made more attractive to disaffected young people.

Despite repeated concern by the Inspectorate that the first two years of secondary remain the weakest stages in the learning chain, HMI appears to have come to the view that the existing 5-14 framework can stop the slide in pupil progress.

But Mr Osler, speaking in East Renfrewshire, conceded that there are probably too many subjects and courses, and stressed that secondary 1 and 2 should be seen as the start of a four-year course.

Other changes in the 5-14 programme envisaged are the new level F to stretch the ablest; the earlier attainment of the five levels already outlined in the 5-14 maths report; and the effects on science teaching of being embodied in environmental studies.

Modern languages is one area Mr Osler believes requires action, although he did not spell out his intentions. He said: "Despite all that has been done in modern languages by introducing it into primary education and overhauling the teaching of methodology in secondary education, we still are not producing a nation of modern language speakers."

In a speech aimed at mapping out a curriculum for the next century, Mr Osler ruled out the early demise of Standard grade and rebuffed criticism that an external exam at age 16 is redundant because of higher staying-on rates. He expected Standard grade to remain at least until the Higher Still reforms had "acquired credibility".

Mr Osler urged schools, however, to re-examine their approach to Foundation level in third and fourth year as new courses bridge the gap between Standard grade and Higher. He said: "If we are in the business of raising expectations perhaps many of the young people who target Foundation could in fact be aiming for General level and be successful there."

Schools should not discount the views of pupils who are turned off by the curriculum, Mr Osler said. During questions he expressed concern at the number of boys who have difficulties with learning.

"There are an increasing number of young people who find school education to be an uncomfortable learning environment. We cannot write these young people off and say they have got it wrong. Young people can often be disaffected from school rather than from learning. Sometimes we speak as if the big idea is school. It is not. The big idea is learning and schools are just an economical, collective way of providing it."

Mr Osler returned to a favourite theme that education must prepare young people for work, and include personal and social development. The Higher Still core skills of communication, numeracy, information technology, personal effectiveness and team working should become "the defining characteristics of education experience throughout primary and secondary education in the next century".

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