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Report tackles curriculum overload

The report takes the bull by the horns and says the present broad curriculum will have to be sacrificed to reduce "curriculum overload and fragmentation. " Pupils in first year can be confronted with as many as 20 or more teachers. The inspectors say that, while this can be popular with pupils, they should "not normally" be taught by more than one teacher for each subject.

HMI recommends that no course should be included in the S1S2 curriculum unless it satisfies six criteria. Courses should: * build on prior primary learning; * lead to "enduring and worthwhile outcomes" which can be reported as 5-14 levels and targets; * deal with skills and knowledge which could not be taught successfully through another subject; * be allocated sufficient time for effective teaching, preferably the Standard grade minimum of 160 minutes a week per subject; * provide for further study; * be well staffed and resourced.

Mr Donaldson believes that course reduction to create more sustained contact with pupils "will not be an easy option but it is achievable."

He pledged that the 160 minutes would not be an audited figure. "It's intended to be indicative," he said.

Mr Osler questioned whether computing should be a separate subject or, as in primary, used to deliver all subjects. Classical studies, he suggested, might be covered through history.

And taster courses in subjects like modern languages or business studies would not fit the new criteria.

The report recommends that one solution practised in some schools of blocking or rotating subjects should become commonplace. Instead of timetabling pupils for one period of history, geography and modern studies every week, schools should set a block of time for the social subjects, rotating each in turn. But this would not suit some subjects, like modern languages and music, which require sustained practice.

The inspectorate rejects the argument that pupils' learning hits a plateau in these years because of the onset of puberty. Nationally, the HMI report promises help. Guidelines on environmental studies are to be reviewed, and there is to be clearer guidance on the transfer of information about pupils transferring from primary.

The report also urges schools to differentiate more in their teaching. "Too often in S1 and S2, all or most pupils in a class are given the same materials at the same pace, regardless of their aptitude or prior attainment," it states. The 1995 "Standards and Quality" report found teaching in the first two secondary years was only fair or unsatisfactory in 40 per cent of schools.

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