3+3 structure hardly adds up

24th February 2012 at 00:00

The reported desire of the Scottish government and Education Scotland that all secondaries should adopt a "3+3" structure from August 2012 has left me saddened. It is worth reminding everyone involved about four key points.

1. The "3+3" model has no special status, other than the political power of those pushing it. The "Progress and Proposals" document of 2006 was the first time most of us had seen any reference to this model. It appeared without a strong rationale or evaluation. It has never been piloted. Moreover, there was no civic debate about such a significant change. It may offer a good model eventually but, from the start, many secondary heads and teachers were not convinced of its merits.

2. Top-down command and control models of change seldom work. They produce perverse unintended consequences at local level. The first CfE document (2004) reminded us that in the National Debate of 2002, "no one argued for a more prescriptive national system".

3. The trend of recent innovation, including much of CfE, has been to recognise the importance of context-sensitive implementation: the bsest starting point is never "where you want to end up", but "where you are just now", and that starting point varies from school to school.

4. Given the importance of exam results for the future life choices of individual children, and their use in aggregate as a measure of a school's success, many heads and teachers judge that, in the light of their school circumstances, going too early into an untested "3+3" model is just too risky.

In light of these points, it is astonishing that Mike Russell and Bill Maxwell have taken a bullish line on this issue. On this, as in other matters connected to presentation in 2014, if they are not prepared to take on the responsibility for the "risks" they seek to impose, nor provide a tested, credible argument for forcing the pace, they should accept the wiser professional judgements of those in the field.

Daniel Murphy, Stirling.

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