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Prior attainment must count

The emphasis on prior attainment in the 2002 version of the HMI publication How Good is Our School? is very welcome.

It strengthens the case of those who want to see the structure of S1-S2 changed to allow all pupils to make progress rather than have some, perhaps the majority, mark time while the schools seek to bring them all to a common level.

The emphasis on prior attainment should also be applied to universities. It seems generally agreed that 17 is too young to start a degree course.

In that case universities should award places only on completion of a full programme of Sixth Year Studies and degree courses should assume that level of prior attainment. This would stop S6 turning into annual performances of the Farewell Symphony.

Serious shortcomings in S1-S2 and S6 mean that only 50 per cent of the secondary school is effective. The country cannot afford the waste of resources let alone the waste of talent and disaffection of large swathes of youth.

Unfortunately a simple emphasis on prior attainment will do little to shake the profession's belief that current performance in certificate courses and the number of students now entering university prove that no changes are needed.

On the other hand, the success of primary schools in catering for difference and introducing broad specialisms will cause more parents to expect secondary schools to continue their approach.

Perhaps one day parental pressure will gain political support and, reinforced by national concern about finance and social order, force the changes that are so stoutly opposed.

It would be comforting to learn that someone somewhere was planning for the time when prior attainment mattered throughout our educational system and not just in primary schools.

David R Hill Relugas Road, Edinburgh

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