Sound the trumpets

Outstanding Higher music results at St Ambrose High in Coatbridge may have surpassed all the independent schools and specialist music academies such as Douglas Academy in Milngavie, North Lanarkshire Council says.

Of 35 pupils sitting Higher music at St Ambrose, 33 received an A pass, one a B and one a C.

The results are being interpreted by Michael O'Neill, the authority's director of education, as a ringing endorsement of North Lanarkshire's enhanced comprehensive model. In the case of St Ambrose, extra funding was used to give an all-school focus on music, with extra staff, equipment and activities.

The council's model of enhanced comprehensives has no selection of pupils by ability. Mr O'Neill said: "St Ambrose is an average comprehensive but we have invested money to enhance music provision and raising attainment."

He added: "These are not elite weans - but it shows that pupils can achieve success if given the right approach."

Mr O'Neill also believes the results show that this approach to using additional funding under the Schools of Ambition programme is more likely to pay dividends than the route chosen by some secondaries to invest in three-year projects because there is a danger that the project will fall away after the money runs out.

North Lanarkshire has also been one of the main proponents of early presentation of S3 pupils for Standard grade and Intermediate exams. Mr O'Neill said that this policy, too, had been endorsed by Standard grade English results for S3 pupils at Dalziel High in Motherwell. Of 170 pupils, 108 gained Credit passes, the remaining 62 General passes.

This year saw a slight rise in the number of pupils taking Standard grade exams, following two years when uptake had been falling.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, suggested that the rise in uptake of Standard grade could perhaps be explained by the growing number of S3 pupils sitting exams a year early - 2 per cent of the cohort this year.

Bruce Malone, headteacher of St Andrew's Secondary School in Glasgow, which Mr Peacock visited to congratulate pupils on their results and recent HMIE report, said he preferred to use a mixture of Standard grade and Intermediate 1 and 2 courses.

It was "horses for courses, or courses for horses", Mr Malone said. He felt that there needed to be more work on some Intermediate courses to take the best of Standard grades and improve their articulation with Highers.

Mr Peacock, during his visit to St Andrew's, confirmed reports first carried in The TES Scotland on November 11, 2005, that the executive was considering having only external assessment at the exit stage from school, leaving most Standard grades and Intermediates as wholly internally assessed.

He said: "We need an exam system which assesses what is right in the curriculum as a consequence of the curriculum review. We are reassessing elements of our exam system, particularly around the Standard grade and Intermediates. Highers and Access will remain but there is some debate about Standard grades and Intermediates.

"This does raise the question about young people sitting externally assessed results at S3 or S4 and going on to do further study. Europe and America don't assess their students externally until they leave. It is a legitimate part of the debate, but I am not pronouncing about it at this stage."

John Docherty, headteacher of St Ninian's High in East Renfrewshire, is one of the headteachers pressing the executive for the green light to bypass external exams in S4 and have externally assessed exams only at the exit point from school.

Summer Debate 4-5; leader 16

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