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'Smug' Scotland shouldn't ignore specialist schools

SCOTLAND is in danger of becoming "smug" over its attachment to comprehensive education, the leader of the education directors warned last week.

Fraser Sanderson, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said there was an assumption that the national education debate had provided a ringing endorsement.

"We mustn't be too smug about that," he told the annual conference of educational advisers in Stirling. "Can we really resist developments south of the border where 50 per cent of pupils will ultimately be educated in post-comprehensive specialist schools? Do we have the research base and the knowledge that justifies what we are doing?

"And what's our Scottish response? Self-evaluation - yet HMI tells us that 40 per cent of schools are only fair or unsatisfactory in their handling of self-evaluation. So it's important we keep asking ourselves whether we are on the right track."

Mr Sanderson, the director in Dumfries and Galloway, also cautioned against "chaotic change" as the curriculum comes under scrutiny. Many schools were "straining at the leash" to make changes that were often driven by staffing and accommodation issues.

He acknowledged that there had to be a move away from an "unstimulating and unchallenging" curriculum with its "lunatic emphasis on a narrow range of examinable skills and on too much factual recall".

Mr Sanderson said: "The curriculum doesn't reflect the way people learn or the way they think and it doesn't respond to pupils' aspirations."

Terry Ashton, adviser in Aberdeen, said: "The more plans we have, the less direction there seems to be."

Mr Sanderson said that he detected internal conflict between the Scottish Executive's schools and policy divisions.

Margaret Doran, head of schools in Stirling, criticised an isolationist mentality in which teachers tended "to do their own thing rather than work co-operatively in teams" and attacked the Executive for presiding over a plethora of targets and measurements - the latest being a new target to aim for a 15 per cent reduction in the numbers of pupils not attaining 5-14 levels D and E.

She said there was no integrated information system to collate all the detail required and no "integrated officials" to carry out this work.

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