MUCH OF the new thinking in Scottish education is being done by local authorities - from North Lanarkshire's suggested overhaul of the secondary curriculum to Argyll's thoughts on the hours pupils should be in school. At a time when central government restricts innovation to tighter monitoring of schools and teachers, the willingness of councils to throw ideas into the melting pot is welcome.
But the Educational Institute's critique of the North Lanarkshire proposals shows the limitations of such inventiveness. The nature of the secondary school and the timing of Standard grade exams cannot be changed in one area alone. A national system of courses and qualifications needs national decisions. That is not to say that ideas have to be the monopoly of ministers or inspectors. They can be generated at local level, by teacher unions, parents' organisations or individual educationists. To that extent the cerebral activity in council offices is to be encouraged.
The EIS believes that North Lanarkshire has not thought through its proposals. Moving the Standard grade years would hae repercussions back into the primary, and if the council's argument for change is based on the inadequacy of Standard grade as an exam, then shuffling it around the secondary years would solve nothing.
But the kernel of the EIS case is that national curriculum planning has produced courses for areas of education such as 5-14. Making that 5-13 would impose fresh burdens on teachers. So whatever the arguments for change, they cannot be advanced authority by authority.
The council's proposals and the union's riposte show that fresh attention is being given to the 10-14 age-group. Brian Boyd argued in The TES Scotland last week that improving primary-secondary liaison and reducing the number of S1 subjects would not be enough to tackle the problems of underachievement in lower secondary. It is more than a decade since the 10-14 committee's report was rejected. Revisiting it would have to be in the context of 5-14 planning and would have to be undertaken nationally. But directors of education are well placed to pinpoint problems and think the apparently unthinkable.