Islands create big waves
Education Secretary gives Western Isles schools go-ahead to deliver new curriculum in S1-2
The idea that the S1-3 years should be seen as a single indivisible unit in future has been blown out of the water.
The director of education in the Western Isles says he has been advised by the Education Secretary's officials that there is nothing to prevent Western Isles schools from delivering the requirements of A Curriculum for Excellence in its unique S1-2 schools.
The council has been trying to close its seven S1-2 schools on the grounds that they could not deliver ACfE. But Fiona Hyslop, who is trying to stop councils closing schools, has "flatly refuted" this, says the Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan.
Murdo MacLeod, director of education for the Western Isles, wants to move pupils in S1-2 classes to larger secondaries which, he argues, can offer greater choice and specialisation.
He maintains that the S1-2 schools are incapable of delivering the fourth level of ACfE because they lack the resources, equipment and staffing, and cannot offer the discrete science subjects, business studies or Skills for Work courses which form part of this stage.
"The fourth level . is achieved within S1-3 for most pupils. A break at the end of S2, in the middle of the fourth level for many pupils, would definitely not be educationally desirable," he says.
Last week, the council put the closure plans on hold while Mr MacLeod draws up a report looking at the feasibility of extending the secondary departments in the seven schools to S3.
The Western Isles debate has raised important questions about some of the key planks of the Government's latest ACfE document, Building the Curriculum 3, which details what is expected in the five levels of the curriculum.
The rationale of the new ACfE document is, says Mr MacLeod, predicated on S1-3 being available within the same school to give maximum flexibility to meet the needs and interests of pupils. He argues that having pupils of different ages studying together at the same level is part of the new curriculum's philosophy and would be impossible to deliver in S1-2 schools.
Bill McGregor and Brian Cooklin, the outgoing general secretary and the president of School Leaders Scotland (the renamed Headteachers' Association of Scotland), both urged caution over closing schools until the curricular reforms had bedded in.
Brian Boyd, professor of education at Strathclyde University and a member of the group which drew up the blueprint for the new curriculum, questioned Mr MacLeod's interpretation, saying: "There is nothing in the document suggesting you need to spend three of these years in the one place."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said, however, that the planned closure of the S1-2 schools on the islands was a matter for the local authority.