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Secondary specialists remain an inhibition

The inspectorate claims that problems with teaching and learning in S1 and S2, + first identified 10 years ago, have not been tackled. But its report (page 3) + argues that "there is no compelling case at present for a radical + reorganisation of the S1S2 curriculum". That will not please Brian Boyd, whose+ Platform article on the opposite page makes the case for a more thoroughgoing + overhaul. But it will reassure the many teachers who could not contemplate a + complete change to practices at the lower end of secondary when Higher Still is+ increasingly preoccupying them, at least in some subjects at a new level of + worry.The previous need to implement Standard grade, followed by the attention + to S5 and S6, contributed to the neglect of the first years and, indeed, to the+ taunt from primary teachers that the 5-14 programme has become in effect 5-12.+ The inspectors are hard on secondary schools for downplaying the importance of+ 5-14, although they appear to accept the problem in moving pupils from a + seamless primary curriculum to one which is subject-based. Environmental + studies pose the biggest challenge, and there will be a welcome for the + promised review of guidelines.If S1 and S2 are the years in which Scots pupils + fall behind international peers, previous explanations will not wash. All young+ people go through puberty. In most countries there is a school transfer around+ 11 or 12. Therefore, we can only look to the nature of the curriculum offered + and the way it is delivered for an answer to underachievement and disaffection.+ The force of the HMI's argument is indisputable. But it leads to surprisingly+ little innovative thinking.Previous themes are reiterated. There should be + more direct teaching, including addressing the whole class. At the same time + there needs to be more differentiation, recognising that pupils learn at + different speeds, especially in a mixed-ability class. Many teachers are + already trying to implement the advice, challenging though it is. If the HMI's + analysis is right, those who have successfully adopted the strategy ought to be+ already producing better S1S2 performances than others.Fewer subjects, fewer + teachers - the attempt to reduce novelty overload, particularly in first year,+ is also not new. Rotating subjects, rather than scrapping some, is the + unremarkable recommendation, again one already taken up in schools.There are + two pressures which will inhibit progress. The claims of new subjects are + always being pressed. Secondly, schools remain wedded to subject specialists, + and they all want access to S1 and S2 pupils, not least because they recruit + for Standard grade and Higher. The Munn committee failed to dent + self-interest; nor has the inspectorate 20 years later.

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