MODERN studies departments face major challenges in coping with pupils who enter secondary schools with higher levels of attainment. The annual conference of the Modern Studies Association at Jordanhill last Saturday also heard that schools which do not do prelim exams are disadvantaging pupils when it comes to appeals.
Ian Ronald, HMI with responsibility for modern studies, said improved performance among primary 7 pupils means secondary schools must rethink courses in terms of content, learning and teaching. He said the new national guidelines in 5-14 environmental studies expect higher levels of attainment for young people who have studied People and Society in primary school.
"These expectations have major implications for S1 and S2 courses in modern studies and subsequently for Standard grade courses. If pupils are coming into secondary with jacked-up levels, we have to think how we can address and progressively develop the level of skills that they have."
Gavin Clark, principal teacher of modern studies at Dunbar Grammar and chairperson of the MSA, said: "We will have to start teaching more at levels E and F. At the moment most S1 and S2 courses are pitched at level D. In terms of Standard grade we will have to face up to whether it becomes a second or third-year course or, if we don't want to go down that route, we may need to look at some of the content being pulled down into 5-14, proably at level F."
Modern studies also faced further pressures as a result of the likely changes stemming from the Learning and Teaching Scotland consultation document, Education for Citizenship, Mr Ronald said. "As we move to consider the role of education for citizenship, modern studies will have to consider how it can best play its part in this overall development. Departments should embrace partnership and diversity in where modern studies goes in the next 10 years."
Henry Maitles, senior lecturer in modern studies at Strathclyde University and a member of the review group which produced the Education for Citizenship proposals, warned: "A central part of the document is that there should be genuine and full consultation and participation forums where pupils can have some say in how the school is organised and run. This means pupil councils, but not just tokenistic ones. They have to have some real influence and authority."
The crucial importance of the prelim exam as the most effective form of appeal was stressed by Patricia McCabe, a principal examiner at Higher level.
This call was backed by Irene Morrison, a national trainer for Higher Still modern studies and a lecturer at Strathclyde University, who said her contacts with teachers showed that prelims at all levels are "very, very important" as evidence. She added: "Pupils are being disadvantaged in the appeals process".