The reasons for change are compelling

Age and stage regulations are the focus of this week's contribution to our summer debates

St Ninian's High dropped all Standard grade exams in S3-S4 in favour of the National Qualifications framework four years ago, following the publication of Circular 32001, Guidance on Flexibility in the Curriculum.

That decision by my predecessor, James McVittie, made the headlines.

However, the reasons for changes then resonate now with the proposals in A Curriculum for Excellence - increased breadth and depth of study, better progression, an integrated system of nationally recognised qualifications for all learners, qualifications that can be built up over time, reduced levels of assessment reliably measuring attainment and demonstrating achievement.

One of the most compelling reasons for change was that pupils consistently indicated that existing courses in S3-S4 were not the best preparation for the challenges of S5. Now, pupils who have followed national qualifications through S3 are asking that the structure of S1-S2 be better adjusted to the demands of S3 and beyond.

The Scottish Executive's proposals therefore to overhaul the S1-S3 curriculum, to deliver new ways of recognising achievement, reform assessment 3-14 and review the national qualifications structure and courses are to be welcomed.

The Progress and Proposals report offers schools the flexibility to develop a common course from S1-S3, with all subjects contributing, though not all at the same time. Progression would be built on pupils' experiences in primary. Breadth would be organised across the proposed curriculum areas with pupils being offered a degree of personal choice. The current arrangements where course choice is made at the end of S2 and at the end of S4 would be replaced in this new model by a single exercise where pupils would choose five subjects (plus PSE, RMPS and PE) at the end of S3 for study in the S4-S6 bloc.

Within this new structure of subjects, schools would be expected to arrange their courses in such a way that appropriate pathways are made available to all pupils, 12-18. The building of these pathways would be facilitated by reference to the proposed levels identified in the Curriculum for Excellence achievement framework.

The expectation would be that most pupils should attain a level equivalent to Intermediate 1 by the end of S3, if not earlier. Having fewer levels, more widely spaced, would allow teachers to offer better pace and depth of study. By the end of S3, pupils should have established a solid basis of learning on which they can build as they move into a framework of qualifications.

An important aspiration within the current review is to deliver a system that ensures rigour for young people without undue reliance on early presentation for national examinations and certification. The abolition of age and stage regulations in 2005 is intended to protect pupils from pressure to be presented for formal qualifications at too early an age.

Our view is that the conversion of achievements into formal qualifications should normally take place no earlier than S4.

The whole assessment, certification and qualifications structure

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