Editorial: Bespoke solutions?

11th December 1998 at 00:00
From the conference of Glasgow secondary headteachers, it is clear that schools are being given greater freedom to adjust the curriculum to suit their pupils' needs. The building programme which the city is embarking on will raise spirits, but it is the curricular discretion that will be most closely watched.

A major criticism of comprehensive schooling is that it establishes a common pattern so that not only do all children go to the same school but that a common style and content of education are prescribed across a local authority and perhaps across Scotland as a whole. Since reorganisation of local government several councils have questioned the stereotyping. Glasgow heads, conscious that on national criteria their schools do not measure up well, are looking for their own tailor-made approaches. If these better suit their pupils, performance will improve and by national benchmarks so will the city's standing.

Initiatives like Castlemilk's restructuring of the third-year curriculum,with its implied disregard for the norms laid down for Standard grade hours per subject, raise several questions. The first is that since school initiatives have won the blessing, or least the compliance, of the education authority, does that suggest that fears of excessive central government direction under the Edinburgh parliament are overstated? Is local government marking out its territory?

Secondly, what will be the response of the Inspectorate? Schools may be able to justify individual initiatives under the new secondary curriculum guidelines since these are broadly framed and avoid detailed prescription. But the HMI tend to interpret "advice" as instruction and routinely tick off schools for failing to measure up to, say, the requirements for religious education. In future a school which defies the national policy of languages for all up to 16 may find itself in the eye of a storm between central and local government.

Thirdly and most important, what will diversity of provision do for schools? In making them more distinctive, will it brand some as non-academic, as the Educational Institute of Scotland fears, with parents then exercising their right to prefer a more traditional one? Comprehensive uniformity may take time to lose its specious attraction.

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