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The standard of excellence is increasing

Excellence was a word to be found in many sets of school aims when we first wrote school development plans.

We were surprised that the first quality assurance framework, How Good is Our School?, had only a four-point scale which did not feature "excellent" for the top achieving schools. After all, parents didn't know "very good" meant that.

Now, from August 2005, HMI will report on a six-point scale of quality indicators. The excellence standard will be: excellent, very good, good, moderate, fair and unsatisfactory.

As I search the curriculum review group's report A Curriculum for Excellence for the sections which directly affect primary schools, I arrive at nursery. In place of a 3-5 curriculum and a 5-14 curriculum there will be one 3-18 curriculum, which will endeavour to address issues of difficulty at the transition points at age 5 and 12.

It always seemed nonsense that there was the artificial divide, anyway.

I read that pre-school approaches such as learning through play will be extended into the early years of primary. As one who specialised in early education at the start of my career, I would suggest that learning through play is an integral part of all early education, whether nursery or early school.

Early numeracy and early literacy programmes have been developed widely in the quest to raise attainment and there is evidence that such programmes are giving children an excellent foundation in these important skills.

Excellent teachers have not thrown out all learning through play, but have found a balance to serve children well.

What is very different is that nursery staffs are working with a ratio of 1:8 or 1:10 children. They will probably also have support staff and usually both nursery nurse and teaching students.

A more radical approach might have been to follow other countries and start compulsory schooling later. However, I doubt that that would have been a vote winner for our politicians.

There are certain wet lunchtimes when we all feel like over-worked childminders providing the cheapest childcare to parents.

Moving back to the primary school sector, 5-14 tests, as we know them now, will cease from next year. There is still mystery around the personal learning plans for children but, with guidance not coming until 2007 about new procedures on reporting to parents, there is time for pilot studies to seek out some workable way ahead.

Thinking as a parent, I would have welcomed such an individual approach. To know details of the next steps for my children and get advice about how I could help them to take these next steps sounds very appealing. I doubt if that would be an easy task with a written report, nor indeed with the current 10-minute parents' meeting.

We would all endorse the four aspirations that all children should develop their capabilities as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society. We all need sound knowledge and skills to develop a vibrant economy to keep Scotland in a position to compete internationally.

To help educators deliver on these aspirations, there will be a new leadership academy by the end of next year. Headteachers will control at least 90 per cent of their budgets and have more say over staffing structures.

By the end of next year, too, new professional development opportunities will be available for primary teachers to learn specialist skills. Does this mean art, music, physical education? I'm not clear. There is certainly an intention to create more space for sport, music, dance, drama, art, enterprise and health issues.

There is no doubt that change is a constant feature of our work and so this is simply the next chapter, but it is a long and detailed one.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburghwww.queensferry-pri.edin.sch.ukIf you have any comments, e-mail

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