Empty schools to close and S grade may be overhauled to 'make reality of comprehensive ideal'
Glasgow is on the verge of one of the most momentous reforms of secondary schooling ever contemplated by an education authority. Malcolm Green, the city's education convener, said the plans "would make a reality of the comprehensive ideal 30 years after it was initiated".
Moves considered in private by senior councillors on Tuesday could involve changes to the curriculum and structure of secondary education. The focus would be on Standard grade which Glasgow considers has not lived up to its billing of "certification for all".
But the first, and most difficult, step would be to tackle the 40 per cent overcapacity in Glasgow's secondary schools. Dr Green said there was "an emerging consensus" that eight secondaries would have to close, leaving the city with what it hopes will be 30 quality schools offering a full range of courses. Any rationalisation programme would probably be phased over five years.
Council leaders hope to sell this to parents and staff by pointing to substantial savings of Pounds 1 million from closing a secondary school which would mean releasing Pounds 8 million for reinvestment. The city hopes to gain a substantial chunk of the Pounds 15 million available to Scottish schools under the Government's "spend-to-save" scheme which is intended to help councils close schools (page four).
"Everyone now accepts the overwhelming logic for school rationalisation, " Dr Green told The TES Scotland in a special interview. "The educational arguments have been rehearsed many times even if they are often imperfectly understood. " The difficulties of small secondaries in offering the full Higher Still menu have further concentrated minds.
Even more radically, Glasgow is considering the effective abolition of catchment areas, giving students the right to choose a range of subjects across the city. Free transport might be included to make this possible. Schools would be encouraged to develop strengths and specialisms in both curriculum and methodologies, although Dr Green said after Tuesday's meeting that the closure programme will have to be dealt with first.
Glasgow's thinking is also being influenced by what it sees as the shortcomings of the Standard grade course. The education committee has already approved plans to develop an alternative curriculum for third and fourth-year pupils who are turned off by the present diet. This was given national endorsement in the Scottish Office's report on underachievement published last December.
Dr Green said: "The honest opinion of most secondary heads is that Foundation courses are simply watered-down Credit courses, which are not motivating for pupils and have no currency."
He prefers more practical and vocational courses. Pupils could progress from short courses and National Certificate modules to higher national units or degrees, Dr Green said. These routes were not available when Standard grade was being developed.
One of the most popular courses for non-Higher pupils in fifth year is travel and tourism. "This is the kind of modern alternative I have in mind," Dr Green said. "These are courses which are practical but are also intellectually challenging and which lead to good career opportunities. But this requires another change in attitude to cease giving automatic esteem to academic courses and despising everything else as being for failures."
Standard grade, he added, had been designed to give every pupil "a lick at gold" and was "part of the ghastly failure of the sixties when we comprehensivised the structure while attempting to give everyone a full, academic secondary education which was not appropriate for everyone and which has sold young people short".
He said: "We should now grasp the chance to make a reality of comprehensive education, matching courses to pupil abilities and inclinations, to do what we claimed we have been doing for the past 30 years but manifestly were not. "
The crisis in the city's schools was such that doing nothing was not an option. "We can no longer afford the traditional approach to problems which was first to deny they were serious, second to admit there was a problem but say it was a matter of resources, and third blame the Government and go back to what we were doing before."