Keep your hands off

14th January 2000 at 00:00
EIS moves to warn councils that they cannot impose 'go it alone' changes to the curriculum

TEACHERS have sent a shot across the bows of education authorities, warning them against tinkering with the curriculum.

In its response to controversial proposals from North Lanarkshire on the secondary curriculum, the Educational Institute of Scotland says that radical change "could not possibly be implemented on an authority by authority basis". The proposals go beyond the discretion and powers of any one council, the union adds.

But Michael O'Neill, North Lanarkshire's director of education, replied pointedly that the proposals, which are uniquely out for consultation both locally and nationally, would mean less of an upheaval than those advanced by Fred Forrester, the EIS's depute general secretary, in The TES Scotland in December.

Mr Forrester called for the abandonment of the "failed" 5-14 curriculum and the creation of a distinctive new 10-14 sector with a specialist teaching qualification.

North Lanarkshire's plans take advantage of the Government's modest easing of the "age and stage" rule for sitting national exams, which would allow Standard grades to commence in S2 and Higher courses in S4.

Common courses would be confined to S1 only - leading, in effect, to a 5-13 curriculum.

The aim is to bring more coherence to upper primary and early secondary, end the academic "go-slow" years of S1 and S2, free up the curriculum in the middle years of secondary and allow pupils to progress at their own pace.

The council is only one of many chafing under what education directorates increasingly believe is a restrictive curriculum which is not flexible enough to deliver Government policies such as those on social inclusion, information echnology and individualised learning. For some, the requirement that every pupil takes eight subjects in S3 and S4 is a Standard grade too far.

The EIS challenges North Lanarkshire's view that there is a "groundswell of opinion" in favour of a review of Standard grade following the introduction of Higher Still and the pressure from 5-14 level F, which is as demanding as the top Credit award at Standard grade.

"The attack on Standard grade is not designed to have it replaced but only to have it relocated in S2-S3," the EIS states. "If Standard grade is as deficient as is claimed in addressing new educational issues, shifting it to S2-S3 will not resolve the problem.

"Standard grade is one of the few stable features of the current secondary curriculum. It is because of the importance of this stability that we have consistently argued against the erosion of Standard grade, for example through over-relaxation of age and stage restrictions."

Mr O'Neillis aware many of the proposals mooted by authorities have national implications. But there was "general agreement that the current structures are not, for example, going to solve the problems in S1-S2".

He acknowledged that radical ideas, such as an earlier start to Standard grade, would require national action. Others, such as a move to a programme of seven Standard grades instead of eight, could be embarked on locally.

"Presumably the EIS is not arguing that there shouldn't be local flexibility," Mr O'Neill said. "The needs of North Lanarkshire are not the same as those of East Dunbartonshire. We are not presenting a take it or leave it package but simply advancing ideas which we believe have a coherence and the potential to influence the national debate."

Leader, page 18

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