Glasgow wants a new curricular blueprint for third and fourth-year secondary pupils. The city's move anticipates changes likely to be forthcoming from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum but invites charges that it may re-create a system of junior and senior schools.
Reinterpreting the 20-year-old Standard grade guidelines would allow more time for enhanced vocational education and supported learning. The requirement for pupils to take seven or eight Standard grades is seen as too demanding for many and was criticised in last December's Scottish Office report on underachievement.
A report to the city's schools subcommittee, approved last week, suggests that the much-vaunted breadth of Scottish education does a disservice to some pupils, particularly those who have difficulty with literacy and numeracy. Standard grade course work not only overloads schools but is not suited for pupils whose attainment is low, it stated
Malcolm Green, Glasgow's education convener, said: "We have ended up with a system that is comprehensive without tackling the curriculum, which for many pupils is simply demotivating. "
Chris Mason, who heads the Liberal Democrats on the council, reminded the subcommittee of the furore Dr Green inspired a few years ago when he ventured that Latin and Greek were not as relevant to students in deprived Easterhouse as they were for those in affluent Hillhead.
Dr Mason backed the Labour group's plans, however, although he predicted that there would be objections from the Educational Institute of Scotland, commenting that the proposals would run into trouble from union "dinosaurs". He warned: "If we are going to have a battle with them over this, let's have it now. "
The Liberal Democrat leader characterised the proposed shake-up as "differentiation within comprehensive education without the old junior and senior secondary divide". It should be possible for a pupil to obtain a good qualification in woodwork without having to do an unnecessarily large amount of writing, he said.
Peter Mullen, the former head of Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow who represents the Roman Catholic Church on the education committee, said that comprehensive education in areas like Drumchapel and Easterhouse did not exist in any case.
"This is a truth that dares not speak its name," Mr Mullen said, "but the fact remains that you will find hardly any candidates for Highers or for university. My guess is that there are only about five secondary schools in the whole of Glasgow that could be called truly comprehensive."
Dr Green said the changes would lead to a more flexible curriculum in the third and fourth years but stressed that the result should not be regarded as "a free-for-all".
The report to councillors underlined the success of special schools in planning for a wide range of needs, using Standard grades more selectively and running modular programmes. "The experience of special schools in providing an appropriate curriculum for pupils with particular difficulties should be drawn on by mainstream secondary schools," it states.
Examples of approaches already being tried out in some secondaries include increasing time for work on basic skills, support for pupils in preparing folios and vocational projects such as the "way to work" in Govan and the work skills programme run by Eastbank Academy in conjunction with the Glasgow education-business partnership.