McConnell's early primer for the 10-14 revolution

14th March 2003 at 00:00
WHEN Jack McConnell was a young maths teacher in 1986, the First Minister would probably have read - as rising stars do - every direction-changing education report hot off the presses.

The red cover of Education 10-14 in Scotland, a discussion paper by the then Consultative Committee on the Curriculum, would have been unlikely to escape his attention.

With the First Minister's pledge to improve the transition between primary and secondary and sort out basic standards in S1 and S2, he might well have stumbled over the CCC report while rummaging through his cuttings and may-be-useful-in-the-future reports.

The 10-14 report ended up like many others - shelved because of costs, filleted for some worthy recommendations and replaced by something less challenging. In the event, the 5-14 curriculum emerged to solve all problems between primary and secondary and to offer a coherent, continuous and progressive experience.

Seventeen years on, the sectoral divide is as wide as ever, despite cluster or associated school groups and far more inter-school liaison. Primaries accuse secondaries of stifling children's progress and being narrowly subject-centred. Secondaries say they cannot rely on earlier assessments and often have to start again.

The 10-14 report was itself the result of six years of work. It did not suggest a fundamental change to the structure between P6 and S2 but instead called for greater continuity and an end to the "fresh start" approach in secondary.

It rejected the Grangemouth experiment in middle schools, although "in terms of curricular coherence and continuity over the 10-14 age range, there is a need for teachers with middle school skills, attitudes and insights".

The inquiry, chaired by David Robertson, education director in the former Tayside Region, wanted close planning between both sectors on the curriculum, pupil care, learning, support, assessment and recording and reporting, but with a "gradualist approach".

In particular, it pressed for 10-14 curriculum co-ordinating teams, comprised of one representative from each primary and the nucleus of the S1-S2 team, but with variations. Teams would have examined all aspects, picked out cross-curricular responsibilities and arranged "staff intervisitation".

Anyone reading the report now will find familiar phrases and perceptions which will fuel the opinion that good ideas take at least 10 years to implement.

On standards of attainment, there are echoes of the furore last week over literacy levels. In 1986, the inquiry stated firmly: "We have found no evidence to support the view often expressed in the media that standards of achievement, especially in the 'basics', have declined. But we do know that HM Inspectors have found that standards are not as uniformly high as they might be."

The Robertson team contended that primary teachers spent too much time on "textbook exercises in English and arithmetic", which was ultimately counter-productive.

In an uncannily familiar refrain, it added: "What inspections have emphasised is not the lack of 'basic' skills, but rather that these skills are not deployed in a sufficiently wide variety of contexts, for a sufficiently wide range of purposes and are not linked with the growth of conceptual understanding in children.

"What they have shown are the very great differences between the best of primary schools in this regard, and the least satisfactory."

In secondaries, the 11-12 subject structure offered breadth but no guarantee of depth. "That standards are as high as they are is a tribute to the resilience of children as learners and the resourcefulness, skill and dedication of individual teachers in rising above the difficulties of the system they find themselves in," the report states.

Other eerie echoes include proposals for the rotation of subjects in S1 and S2, larger time blocks than the traditional 40-minute period, co-operative teaching and pupil self-assessment.

The 1986 report also picks up the General Teaching Council's reluctance to accept that secondary teachers could teach general subjects in primary or that they could have a dual qualification. Now the 2003 GTC is considering more flexibility.

Obviously, Jack and Cathy's bedtime reading.

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