North Lanarkshire presses for secondary shake-up that would see Standard grade start a year earlier
STANDARD grades could begin a year earlier and Higher Still courses in the fourth year under radical options floated by North Lanarkshire to overhaul a secondary curriculum critics say is thwarting pupil progress.
The council has already pioneered reform of the 5-14 programme, freeing time to concentrate on the basics, and last week took a further step towards curriculum reform by revealing plans for a secondary shake-up.
Headteachers were told the council is keen to pilot an alternative model that would tackle the lack of specialisation in upper primary, the academic go-slow in the first two years of secondary and the strait-jacket of Standard grade in the middle years.
Proposals from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum merely tinker with existing structures, according to North Lanarkshire, which has studied the effects of a revised model in six secondaries. Key changes include:
* Retaining the common course in S1 but with new "pathway" courses covering P7 and S1 in a more coherent way.
* Introducing S grade in S2 and scrapping the common course.
* Continuing assessment against 5-14 levels but probably eliminating level F.
* Keeping course choices based on broad modes but from S2, not S3, and with flexibility to run with seven rather than eight modes.
* Continuing S grade exams at the end of S3.
* Higher Still would be introduced at the beginning of S4, ousting Standard grade. Course choices based on a reduced pattern would run from S4 and not S5 and external exams would run from S4 through S5 to S6.
Michael O'Neill, North Lanarkshire's director of education, has already addressed the staffs of several schools and believes there is strong support for reform. "The reaction from 97 per cent of heads at their conference was 'can we do this next year?'," he said.
It may be several years before changes filter through, but different strategies could be tested in the three North Lanarkshire schools within the Government's education action plans.
The council argues that a certificate course in S2 limits the number of teachers in front of pupils, creates larger blocks of teaching time without using rotas and allows more focused assessment.
More able pupils could progress to more appropriate Higher Still courses in S4 and underperformance in S2 would be fundamentally tackled by the revision.
Mr O'Neill said the overall effect on staffing was likely to be neutral, although some departments would lose out, notably modern languages since compulsory languages would end in S3.
He accepted the major difficulty was the lack of maturity of pupils at the end of S1. There are also issues about entry to further and higher education.
Michael Doig, head of Cumbernauld High and local president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said: "There is a lot of merit in the proposals and nobody said they are unworkable, although we would want to have a look at the details through implementation studies. One of issues is what happens when the two systems interchange at the point of the changeover.
"But the proposals address a number of festering sores, particularly the difficulty in keeping youngsters motivated in S2. At a stroke we would have something fresh to offer them.
"It would give a new life to Standard grade."