Against the stream

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
How can any sensible, intelligent being take seriously the petulant remarks, redolent with non sequiturs, of Professor Brian Boyd (TESS, September 2) with regard to Marj Adams's August 26 column advocating streaming?

Professor Boyd is teaching in a university among some of the brightest and best, academically speaking. If that isn't a form of streaming, then what is?

I suspect, from the observations of both Professor Boyd and Colin Weatherley in the same issue, that they were either top-stream pupils in their time or from financially privileged backgrounds and thus educated in the private sector in small class groups.

It seems tragic to me, as a time-served teacher in the Scottish secondary sector, that so many pupils' needs are not being addressed. Comprehensive education, when introduced to Scottish schools, promised potentially equal learning opportunities - native intellect and ability notwithstanding - under one roof for all youngsters aged 11-18, a departure from the existing two-tier system of senior and junior secondary schools.

But comprehensive education only works if each particular school's philosophy of education and timetabling constraints permit "setting" according to skills and ability from S1 right through S4, with the availability of both promotion and demotion according to pupil progress. If such an arrangement is not possible, then streaming is our only viable alternative.

Before what became in many senses a free-for-all, mixed-ability experience in S1-S4 in most subjects across the curriculum, some of us remember those halcyon days of teaching top-streamed youngsters, albeit within the comprehensive system, and the joy and excitement of interaction with the brains of pupils who would eventually become some of our top scientists, eminent medical consultants and surgeons, successful business directors, lawyers, politicians, civil servants, educationists and researchers.

We are in danger of losing the interest and goodwill both of our most able pupils and of those most needy in our mixed-ability classes. A good friend and former colleague, currently with very gifted twin sons, reports that they are losing heart in many of their school subjects already at the start of their second year of high school. They are under-stimulated and under-stretched in their mixed-ability classes, which must of necessity be geared to the middle of the academic spectrum.

Children with severe learning disabilities and behavioural problems are also disadvantaged in mixed-ability groups, even with the support of the ubiquitous classroom assistant on patrol.

We owe it to all of our pupils that our current system of secondary education in Scotland caters for their needs, not just those of the mid-ability range.

Shirley Mitchinson



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