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Sideways steps towards graduation

I am a passionate believer in education. I want people to live happy and fulfilled lives, and that usually includes achieving their learning potential, one way or another.

So I'm glad our society offers lifelong learning, especially to those who didn't succeed at school for whatever reason.

But our aims in education, although laudable, are not always realistic. An example is 5-14 national testing. Of course, it would be grand to have everyone achieve level E by the end of S2, but it is just not feasible for some children. This is nothing to do with resources, teaching or class sizes, but with the individual child's cognitive ability.

I know research shows that able youngsters sitting five Highers do better than those just sitting four but, for the less able, the leap between Standard grade and Higher is just too big. Pushing them into sitting too many Highers in one sitting will be unsuccessful and stressful for staff and pupils alike.

And worse, there will be pupils cheerfully coming back to fifth year who have barely made it through fourth. If schools are not offering a curriculum sufficiently varied at their level, we can predict accurately the mayhem they will cause. And sadly, the real victims will be the other pupils who will not achieve their potential because of the one or two firecrackers who should have left and returned to education when sufficiently mature to access it.

I'm all for every person achieving all they can achieve, and I'm glad that those not quite making the grade at school can get to university via the HNCHND route. But - and it's a big but - I see colleges clinging on to their HND students who intend to move sideways into second year university - presumably to keep up their numbers (and their jobs).

Actually, the right route for these students is probably a sideways step from HNC into first year university. To go from the comfort zone of an HND year at college into a second-year university course is traumatic and unfair.

I suspect that schools and colleges encourage students to stay on merely to keep their numbers up - not necessarily for the benefit of the young learner. Education will fail unless learners have the right curriculum. Then we will have happy, fulfilled people.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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