Inside the hall of mirrors

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
YOUR praise for comprehensive schools in Scotland (Leader, September 15) cannot be allowed to pass without comment.

Let me state unequivocally that comprehensive schools here provide, at best, a third-rate education. It is disingenuous for academic researchers and journalists to trumpet about rising attainment because of the comprehensive system when there is a political agenda designed to ensure that ever increasing numbers of pupils gain ever better grades.

The fact is that it is easier to get good grades in exams than it used to be, despite the Scottish Qualifications Authority's "research" purporting to claim that levels of difficulty have not changed over the years.

The Higher Still exams are easier than the Highers they replaced; at Standard grade pupils now get Credit awards for performances which would previously have merited only General level; and these Standard grades are in themselves easier than the old O grades. Need I go on?

By their nature, comprehensives can only be second-rate in comparison with a properly organised differentiated secondary system. However, they are not even as good as that because of the policies and practices adopted throughut Scotland.

Springing to mind are, for instance, the waste of time that is called "guidance", the ineffectiveness of learning support, the lack of provision for bright pupils and the almost total avoidance of telling pupils they have failed, even when they manifestly do not meet the demands of a course.

It is high time we in this country moved away from the dogmatic strait-jacket of comprehensives and moved forward to allocating pupils to appropriate secondary courses on transfer from primary. These courses are best delivered in separate schools focusing tightly only on the more homogeneous group of pupils in their care. That would get us away from the notion of "selection" and all it entails and instead make the best provision for all our pupils.

The reasons for my proposal are simple - I have taught 26 years in "good" schools here and three years in various parts of Germany. The standards reached by pupils in every level of German schools put Scotland's schools to shame. Step outside the insular, inward-looking, "Wha's like us?" world of Scottish education and you can see it is just a hall of mirrors.

Bill Cooper

Highfield Circle


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