Let's have an answer;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

12th November 1999 at 00:00
THE TIME for excuses is surely past. The latest report from the Assessment of Achievement Programme (page one) shows something is seriously wrong with the teaching of English language - or is it the condition of S1-S2, or the 5-14 guidelines, or the whole approach to primary school assessment, or the continuing dilemma of boys' learning?

This is not teacher-bashing. Indeed, casting the net over such a wide agenda of probable root causes suggests teachers may be the least of the problems. It is, however, rather breathtaking to read that mastering the most elementary of skills is a mystery to many pupils by S2 - and that they would not even think of turning to a dictionary.

In the past, patchy implementation of the 5-14 guidelines has been the Government's alibi. That may still be a factor in a minority of schools - or it may be the fault of the guidelines themselves. Hopefully, the results of HMI's review of 5-14 assessment, due next month, will point a clearer way forward.

There is evidence that education authorities are now wrestling rather more specifically with language issues, as opposed to the rather more vague intention to implement 5-14 "guidelines". We now have early intervention and target-setting focused on reading and writing. Glasgow is even tackling "language across the curriculum", a quarter of a century after the Bullock report first identified the problem.

We have a conundrum. There is a perceived sluggishness among S1-S2 pupils. Yet exam results by S4 are said to be improving steadily. If pupils are therefore making up lost ground, is the S2 "problem" more perceived than real?

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