The recent OECD report on Scottish education contained a recommendation for a Scottish Certificate of Education for pupils in S4-6. While pondering the significance of this recommendation, I was challenged by a secondary teacher about how he was going to keep kids motivated for three years while they experienced a broad-based S1-3 curriculum. The teacher's challenge was that if we could not motivate kids in two years, why would extending that by another year make a difference, especially if our entire secondary education is driven by the certification system?
The "reality" is that in many teachers' - and students' - minds the S1 and S2 curriculum is only given value by its link to the certificated curriculum. In fact, such is the power of this "value through certification" that some schools in Scotland have introduced the certificated curriculum even earlier. The logic of this step is quite compelling, and it certainly demonstrates that a school is doing something to address these allegedly fallow early years of secondary school.
So if, in reality, most secondary school curriculum models are driven by a "trickle down" effect of certification, why not recognise the power of such a driver and seek instead to build a different engine.
That would be to create a Scottish Certificate of Education, for which students would be eligible at the end of S3. In the OECD proposal, such a certificate was to be for the 3-18 curriculum. But I believe that there must be some means of capturing a young person's achievements between the ages of three and 15 before they start to engage with the world of formal qualifications. This would form a junior Scottish Baccalaureate.
What if we could create a Scottish Certificate of Education which was more akin to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, or the John Muir Award, where it is more about accumulating achievements as opposed to any external exam? Such a curriculum would give schools the freedom to create the content within their SCE course, using the headings set out in Curriculum for Excellence, for example, skills for learning; skills for work; skills for life; curricular achievements across a broad spectrum; health and well-being; numeracy and literacy.
The only externally-assessed element would be numeracy and literacy, leading to the proposed Scottish Certificate for Numeracy and the Scottish Certificate for Literacy. A school's S1-3 course could be submitted for external moderation to ensure it met national standards but, within that framework, there could be considerable freedom.
In my "imagined" curriculum, the focus in S1-3 would be on an "achievement port-folio" where employability would be a key component. I know that, for some, the idea of employability as a focus for education is a step too far. But we can flesh out a definition of employability which would be compelling, inclusive and, above all, easily understood by young people, parents and the wider community.
I know this proposal seems to run counter to the concept of non- certification before S3, but if we seek to change our practice we need to recognise the reality in our schools and build from where they are.
Don Ledingham, is acting director of education and children's services in East Lothian.