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Not back to basics, but raising standards

I must take issue with the article by Ian Jamieson published in TES2 (October 24). In the first instance, North Lanarkshire does not have a "back to basics" policy but is fully committed to a "raising achievement" policy as exemplified in the front page article of your publication of the same date.

Far from supporting a narrow "back to basics" approach, our policy adopts a broad definition of achievement and endorses the concept of "multiple intelligences" in setting targets which will support the development of different kinds of aptitudes and abilities.

In acknowledging the scientific and technological heritage of our area, North Lanarkshire strongly supports these same areas of curricular development.

As an authority which has provided advisory support, both primary and secondary, to the component areas of environmental studies, where is the threat to these areas of the curriculum? We also work very closely with Understanding British Industry and education-business partnerships to support industry links and to identify training and development needs.

The principle of young people experiencing the content and processes of science (and technology, although this was not included in the article) from the earliest age is vitally important.

How many councils have provided, in the past year, teacher and pupil support materials for science and technology to every primary school?

How many councils have identified science and technology within the authority development plan and made a commitment to support learning and teaching with a range of further curriculum packages and attendant staff development?

North Lanarkshire has done both.

While reluctant to rise to the baiting by Ian Jamieson, I must add that North Lanarkshire primary teachers have had access not only to a range of staff and pupil materials but have had staff training in both science and technology offered through centre based in-service and in school support.

The reasons for the reallocation of time is to consider ways in which the authority and schools can continue to operate within the spirit and guidelines of the 5-14 programme but in a manner which simplifies the demands associated with environmental studies, tackles the issue of underachievement in key skills and reduces the workload demands on teaching staff. The changes to time allocation target the youngest pupils specifically and reflect the fact that literacy is the gateway to progress in all areas of the curriculum let alone science and technology. The reduction in time allocation in the early years is balanced by the strong enhancement of support at the middle and upper stages.

North Lanarkshire's proposals do not constitute an invitation to schools to disregard the 5-14 guidelines at will. The authority's commitment to a vigorous and formative environmental studies curriculum is reflected in the importance assigned environmental studies within its strategic plan for 5-14. The proposed changes offer a framework within which individual schools will plan a coherent and progressive approach to environmental studies, confident in the knowledge that the developmental agenda will be manageable and sustainable and that it will be supported and resourced.

MICHAEL O'NEILL

Director of education

North Lanarkshire

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