The 5-14 honeymoon is over

19th September 1997 at 01:00
Responding succinctly to the question "How is the implementation of 5-14 + progressing in secondary schools?" is rather like trying to deal with the + question "What is the climate like in America?" How can one summarise the + diversity of responses and practices which have resulted from the requiremen ts+ of the programme? Five years after the publication of the subject guidelines, + the implementation is "well under way" in almost all mathematics and English + departments and is judged to be "substantially complete" by 58 per cent and 32 + per cent of principal teachers respectively. But the principal teachers of + other curricular areas now indicate that the implementation of their guidelines+ is considerably behind the stage they predicted in our 1994 survey. In half of+ the schools surveyed in the autumn of 1996, it seems that most other + curricular guidelines are at the very earliest stages of implementation, that + of discussion and awareness raising, and the majority of headteachers are + satisfied with this level of progress. The exception is science, which most + schools now report as having advanced into formal implementation. As for + reporting, half of the mathematics and English department s now include a + descriptor in 5-14 terms of pupils' attainments and development needs or next + steps, but the majority of other subject areas retain their previous formats + and as a consequence reports to parents now comprise a confusing mixture of + grades, numbers, letters and scales. The accessibility of primary school + records for subject teachers has improved. However, their consistency, + reliability and relevance are frequently considered suspect. For many schools + the honeymoon period for primary-secondary liaison appears to be over, and some+ secondary staff now complain of the insensitivity of their primary colleagues + to their needs and problems. Nevertheless, looking in greater detail at what + has been achieved by individual departments, it is clear that a variety of + significant changes relevant to the overall aims of the programme have been + undertaken, even if many of these were reported to us as not having been + prompted by the requirements of the programme. In a range of subject + departments, profiling has been developed in innovative ways to allow pupils to+ have fuller engagement than previously with planning and managing their + learning and achievements, and the learning outcomes intended from many + classroom experiences are now identified and discussed. In a number of + curricular areas, for the first time, what is offered to pupils in S1-S2 + amounts to a "course" rather than a series of unconnected episodes of + teaching.Differentiation has been tackled in a range of subject areas: 62 per + cent of learning support teachers report an improvement for the low attaining + pupils in social subjects and 49 per cent in science. Most mathematics and + English departments have considerably extended their differentiation practices.+ Staff report an increase in the use of differentiated materials (69 per cent + and 79 per cent respectively), an increase in teaching in ability groups (39 + per cent and 32 per cent respectively), a decrease in mixed-ability grouping + (30 per cent and 24 per cent) and a decrease in whole-class teaching (36 per + cent and 25 per cent). More than 80 per cent of principal teachers in these two+ subjects believe that continuity and progression have been improved in their + S1-S2 courses, and 90 per cent of the teaching staff are committed to the + strategies they have been developing. From their unique position of overview in+ their schools, more than 60 per cent of learning support teachers indicated + that continuity, progression and the quality of learning and teaching have + generally improved in first and second-year courses as a consequence of the + implementation activities.Another, perhaps overlooked, aim of the programme + was "to assist teachers with current problems rather than making unnecessary + changes in the overall design of the curriculum or in individual subject + areas". The extent to which this aim has been achieved can perhaps be judged by+ the fact that more than 70 per cent of headteachers, learning support staff + and principal teachers of mathematics and English indicated that the 5-14 + programme had prompted them to take action on changes they wished to make + anyway, and more than half agreed that the implementation had "been a + professionally rewarding experience". It would seem to us that there have been + three quite distinct responses to 5-14 requirements. One group of staff have + used it as an opportunity to think about learning within the context of their + subject teaching and to share and develop professional practices which have + been a twinkle in their professional eyes for some time. The 5-14 programme has+ given them the opportunity to strike out and experiment. A second group have + implemented many of the requirements, but in a fairly superficial way - they + have reordered the content of their subject curriculum, filled the gaps, + relocated the resources and devised end-of-unit tests to share with their + primary colleagues. They show little sign of reflective questioning or a sense+ that radical change is desirable or even necessary. The prompt for that may be+ our poor showing in the international league tables. And there is a third + group who have achieved very little since their subject guidelines were + published, whether because of isolation and constraints within very small + departments, the pressure of other demands, or a general commitment to the + rejection of everything that the previous Government asked of them, regardless + of its professional merits. "I would like to say it hasn't, but in reality it + has assisted us," said one headteacher of the 5-14 programme.It is possible to + hold the pessimistic view, particularly given the views of the last of these + three groups, that little further progress will be made in the implementation + now that the demands of the more prestigious Higher Still programme loom on the+ horizon, but perhaps a few other items in the legacy of the previous + administration will act as continuing prompts to further action. First, the + power of parents. Grown familiar through the primary years with the structured + and informative 5-14 reporting format, they will not long be content with the + current chaos and confusion in the assessment and reporting systems of S1-S2. + And second, client choice. There was a time when most pupils couldn't wait to + leave school and, for all but a few, this signalled the end of their education.+ This is no longer the case. The majority now remain at school beyond the + minimum leaving age, and there is a growing recognition that the learning + process needs to continue throughout the working life. Schools may find + themselves increasingly in competition in the post-16 arena with further + education colleges, many of which are planning to secure students by offering + an attractive range of Higher Still courses. Schools have only four years to + convince young people that they offer a context for fulfilling and effective + learning. It would be ironic if, in their dash to raise a complex edifice of + Higher Still courses, they neglected to secure a sound foundation in + S1-S2.Professor Mary Simpson and Jonquil Goulder of Northern College undertook + an evaluation, funded by the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department,+ of the implementation of the 5-14 programme in secondary schools, 1991-97.

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