Concern over plans for S4

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
Heads fear replacing current qualifications would spell end to flexibility and impede choice
Heads fear replacing current qualifications would spell end to flexibility and impede choice

The Education Secretary's plans to replace Standard grade and Intermediate exams with a new S4 qualification, first revealed in The TESS on March 21, will be difficult to implement by 2012, secondary headteachers have warned.

In addition, leaders of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland say that no funds have been set aside for exam and curriculum developments, leaving schools to rely on councils to find the money.

Brian Cooklin, HAS president, also wondered whether pupils would be tested in literacy and numeracy from the ages of 3 to 15 leading up to the proposed exams in these areas in S4. He asked: "How will this qualification be awarded? Will it count towards college courses? Will it be a statutory requirement for some university courses?"

A week on from Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop's statement to the Scottish Parliament, a main fear is that her plans for a general curriculum in S1-3 will exacerbate the current S1-2 problem of pupils "marking time".

The proposals spell an end to early presentation of pupils for exams in S3 and therefore the flexibility some heads have employed to offer greater "personalisation and choice" - a move they feel has benefited lower ability pupils in particular.

Neal McGowan, head of Larbert High, near Falkirk, said he would be having urgent talks with his principal teachers over whether they could or should still offer their programme of S3 exams to the current P7 pupils who will enter S1 after the summer holidays.

He described Ms Hyslop's plans, based on A Curriculum for Excellence, as being "like a runaway train".

"The idea of it is emerging predominantly from the primary model, which has a thematic approach to everything," he said. "When I read Fiona Hyslop's statement, I felt S1-3 would be leaning much more towards an all-encompassing thematic approach, to which different parts of the curriculum would make a contribution."

While he was not against that in principle, secondary schools were staffed by subject specialists and teacher education programmes were organised around subjects. "We have to take great care we don't throw schools into chaos," Mr McGowan said.

Headteachers have also raised doubts about proposals to allow more academic pupils to bypass the new S4 qualification. They fear that, without a safety net, schools will take the safe option of presenting pupils for exams in S4, S5 and S6 - thus defeating the purpose of removing the "two-term dash" for Higher.

On the other hand, schools embracing the bypass option might become "fast-track" schools, which might create a two-tier structure, warned Bill McGregor, general secretary of HAS.

Reaction and details, p4-5; Leader, p22.

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