Exam revise for Glasgow

7th October 2005 at 01:00
Glasgow is to become the first authority to move all its secondary schools to a system where pupils can sit Standard grades in S3, leaving them two years, instead of the "two-term dash", for Highers.

The strategy is the first major educational change to emerge from the commission set up in the summer by Steven Purcell, Glasgow's new council leader.

The commission - chaired by Ronnie O'Connor, former director of education and now executive director (education, training and young people) - was set up to look at ways of raising the attainment of the city's pupils.

However, the commission's plans to move the secondary sector en masse to an accelerated Standard grade programme appears to bypass not only the education committee but a special working group on raising attainment, which included teaching unions, headteachers and councillors.

There is growing speculation that Mr Purcell, convener of the education committee before succeeding Charlie Gordon as leader, had lost patience with the attainment working group and is now looking at faster, more effective routes to improving exam results.

He told The TES Scotland: "We have had seven years of sustained, massive investment in education in the city but results have not improved."

The commission will now be asked to consider how to implement the broad strategy of accelerating Standard grades by a year. "They will consider whether a recommendation or a requirement upon headteachers to do this is appropriate," Mr Purcell said.

With around 4,000 pupils crossing the boundary from Glasgow to East Renfrewshire - where 43 per cent of pupils gained three or more Highers this year compared to Glasgow's 13 per cent - Mr Purcell is adamant that only by improving results will parents be persuaded to send their children to the city's secondary schools and not to the "leafy suburbs".

Research by the directorate suggests that the S1-S2 malaise has now spread to P7 in some primary schools. For that reason, Mr Purcell wants pupils to embark on the general path to Standard grades in P7 under the direction of the heads of the city's 29 learning communities.

While it will be up to headteachers' discretion when to present pupils for Standard grades or equivalent exams, the expectation is that pupils should sit them in S3 along the model pioneered at Keith Grammar in Moray.

That would leave pupils two years to prepare for Highers and provide a greater focus on these exam results. The brightest pupils would be expected to take not the three to five Highers they currently sit, but five, six or seven in S5.

Headteachers are understood to be sceptical about how the strategy will work, raising questions such as whether Mr O'Connor and Mr Purcell are taking account of the possible demise of Standard grade, whether the creation of a kind of middle school will mean "scrapping" P6 or S1, or whether P7 teachers will have to take on the workload of S1-S2 teachers.

Willie Hart, secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland in Glasgow, has demanded an explanation from Mr O'Connor over why the proposals were not discussed at the education committee or the working group.

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