Heads will be key to reform

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Few major surprises are expected next week when the Scottish Executive unveils its package of secondary school reforms, although the measures are billed as "the biggest shake-up for a generation".

Some of the details to be announced on Monday by Peter Peacock, Education Minister, have been trailed already. Among these will be a pledge to allow greater freedom for teachers and plans to strengthen school leadership, as Mr Peacock told a school management conference in September.

As a quid pro quo, the Executive will insist on what it describes as "higher expectations of leadership and tougher accountability", with real improvements demanded of schools and local authorities. These will have to be demonstrated across the range of the five national education priorities, and not just focused on exam results.

One new initiative to enforce greater accountability is expected to be closer comparisons between the performance of Scotland's schools and that of other countries.

A source close to Mr Peacock said: "The people best placed to make judgments about the learning needs of individual pupils are those who work with them closely on a day to day basis. Teachers must be given the freedom to exercise their professional judgment.

"But professional freedom must go hand in hand with the highest standards and with public accountability. We need robust systems of inspection and evaluation that target support at those schools who are struggling."

Headteachers will be presented as the linchpins of these moves, being expected to perform to higher standards and in return given more freedom to run schools.

Philip Rycroft, influential head of the schools branch at the Executive's education department, signalled the new approach at the September management conference when he said: "We have to find space for heads to be given responsibility for exercising leadership."

Another key ingredient in next week's package will be the first phase of the curriculum review, which Mr Rycroft has been chairing. This is expected to accept that there should be a single 3-18 curriculum, although at this stage it is likely to set out "a clear set of outcomes" for young people leaving school rather than a prescriptive approach as to what should or should not be in the curriculum.

The purpose is said to be to open up "choice, space and time", allowing teachers to tailor learning to individual pupil needs. This will be linked to personal learning plans (PLPs), which teachers fear could impose new burdens. Mr Peacock has signalled many times in public that he regards PLPs as one of the "big ideas" in education "Each child has different abilities, different capacities, different enthusiasms," he said recently.

Curriculum changes seem likely to emulate those in the "assessment is for learning" programme, with a number of specialist groups working with teachers across the country to see what works and what does not. Mr Rycroft has suggested that the curriculum review should "hold strongly to that principle" and not "impose a centrally driven model".

The outcome of another review, on 3-14 assessment, will also be announced next week, with ministers expected to bring in regular and broader sampling of performance through a new Scottish Survey of Achievement.

Mr Peacock's package, meanwhile, will also include the latest thinking on initial teacher education, continuing professional development and guidance.

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