First to go it alone

31st August 2001 at 01:00
THE green light was given this week by North Lanarkshire to a radical overhaul of the curriculum in the authority's 26 secondary schools. It is the first to involve all secondaries in such a move.

If the trend takes off across Scotland, it could spell the end of the two-year common course in S1-S2 and of Standard grade as the certificated course for all 16-year-olds.

The council's education committee approved a blueprint to give every school increased flexibility to respond to pupil needs. From August next year they could be choosing subjects at the end of S1, and starting Standard grade courses in S2 and Higher Still units in S3.

This unprecedented room for manoeuvre follows the signal from Jack McConnell, Education Minister, in his TES Scotland article (August 17) that schools that departed from national guidelines would not be rebuked - provided they could show educational gains.

Charles Gray, the Labour-run council's education convener, commented that the greatest need was for schools to show "initiative, variety and innovation". Dan Sweeney, the authority's head of quality development, called for a more "radical edge" to curriculum changes and said:

"Flexibility will be the driving force for the next 10 years."

The "radical edge" is, however, founded on guidelines issued by the former curriculum council in 1999, Michael O'Neill, the director of education, points out. These advocate flexibility within "a broad and balanced curriculum".

Mr O'Neill said: "If a young person's talent in a North Lanarkshire comprehensive is in art, why can't they do seven Standard grades but do six periods of art, get to a higher level and end up with a career in art?" Drew Morrice, secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland in North Lanarkshire, gave the plans a cautious welcome. "It is important that, when headteachers are considering these proposals, they talk to staff about what schools should offer in curricular terms. The process of curricular development requires to be a collegiate exercise."

But Mr Morrice warned that curricular difference must not mean a two-tier system. "The authority must monitor developments to ensure that some schools, such as those covered by education action plans, do not become perceived as sink schools."

Frank Berry, head of St Margaret's High in Airdrie, who chairs the secondary heads' association in North Lanarkshire, said: "The existing arrangements are overly prescriptive and are all about trying to fit pupils into boxes."

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