Government set to dig in on Nationals deadline

10th February 2012 at 00:00
As the EIS prepared to press the case for flexibility, sources suggested Michael Russell would stick to his guns

An attempt by Scotland's largest teaching union to persuade the government to delay the introduction of the new National 4 and 5 qualifications by a year seems set to fail.

The incoming general secretary of the EIS, Larry Flanagan, was due to meet yesterday with education secretary Michael Russell and Education Scotland's chief executive Bill Maxwell to press his case for all schools to have the option of delay.

But government sources suggested prior to the meeting that Mr Russell would stick to the previous directive from the Curriculum for Excellence management board - that only in exceptional circumstances could school departments do so.

Mr Russell is expected to impose a strict deadline of June for departments to declare themselves unable to meet the 2013-14 date for the new qualifications. They would then be offered additional support and continuing professional development by Education Scotland.

Likewise, any schools which are not offering pupils the "broad general education" across S1-3 expected under CfE, and who are sticking to the traditional 2+2+2 curriculum model (S1-2, subject choices at end of S2 for study over S3-4, followed by S5-6), can also expect to be identified and offered additional help to adopt the government's preferred model.

Education Scotland is in the process of asking each education authority how many schools have adopted the 3+3 model (the curriculum structure under which pupils make their subject choices at the end of S3) and how many the 2+2+2 model.

"Every school on 2+2+2 is going to be encouraged to change," said a spokesman for Education Scotland.

Asked whether Education Scotland had the powers to enforce the adoption of 3+3, he added that it would be down to Education Scotland to "support them out of that position".

Last week, Dr Maxwell wrote to all education directors in his capacity as chair of the new implementation group for CfE, giving his most explicit guidance to date.

Mr Flanagan told TESS that Dr Maxwell should have issued that clarity of advice by last October. That view has been expressed privately by some education directors and headteachers who believe last week's letter was a year too late.

The issue has come to the fore because of East Renfrewshire's decision to delay the introduction of National 4 and 5 exams for all its secondary pupils by a year. Its education director, John Wilson, argues that as his schools all dropped Standard grades in 2005, they can take advantage of the dual-running of Intermediate 1 and 2 qualifications alongside National 4 and 5 in their first two years.

Dr Maxwell and Gill Robinson, a senior member of Education Scotland's management team, were told in December of East Renfrewshire's plans for delay. But it was only on 31 January, the day the story broke in the media, that Dr Maxwell wrote to Mr Wilson warning that his council's decision "carries a risk of undermining the collective national effort to build confidence in the new pattern of qualifications".

Guidance on the new curriculum structure

Extracts from Bill Maxwell's letter to education directors:

- "There is not yet full and consistent understanding of the intentions of the broad general education, and some emerging practice is not compatible with its purposes and expectations."

- The continuation of a broad general education up to the end of S3 is a "fundamental design feature" of CfE as well as a "core national entitlement" for all young people.

- "I am conscious that plans are already in place, or well advanced, for the pathways which current S2 pupils will be following in S3, the final year of the broad general education phase. It will be important that you evaluate these rigorously in line with the national expectations of the broad general education and plan to change them where necessary."

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