Parents revolt over CfE

3rd December 2010 at 00:00
Campaigners launch protest about restricted subject options under new qualifications system

The first evidence of a parent revolt over Curriculum for Excellence has emerged.

An Aberdeenshire parent council has launched a local and national campaign to highlight concerns over plans to restrict the current S1 cohort of pupils to a maximum of five subjects when they reach S4 in 2013 and become the first pupils to sit the new qualifications.

Banchory Academy parent council is calling for urgent action to extend S4 subject choice to the current eight or nine before the qualifications system is finalised.

And the head of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council is predicting that Banchory Academy is likely to be the first of many parent bodies to protest.

Eileen Prior, SPTC's executive director, suggests Banchory parents are ahead of the game, simply because their school's headteacher has been good at communicating with S1 parents. Many schools had still not broached the issue.

"Parents are justifiably concerned about the notion of children's opportunities being constricted by the new examination framework.

"CfE holds out many opportunities but the responses received from government to date do not provide an adequate response to this very important question. We are reaching a point where everyone requires clarity," she said.

Banchory Academy parents are warning that by narrowing subject choice so early in the senior phase, their children's university options will be disadvantaged, particularly if they want to go to an English university. Not all pupils may be able to study their first choice of subject if there is over-subscription for five core subjects, they predict.

"This is critical for university applications as there is often a requirement to take all subjects in one sitting," says parent council chair, Louise Christophersen, in a letter to all parents, urging them to raise the issue.

Two families were moving their children after Christmas to an independent school, Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, because of these concerns, while others were reluctantly considering the private sector, she said.

Hugh Ouston, headteacher of Robert Gordon's College, declined to comment on Banchory Academy's situation, but said he had sought to reassure parents of his pupils in a recent newsletter that his school would continue to offer eight courses in S4.

His school's interpretation of CfE was to concentrate on aspects of methodology such as formative assessment and active learning rather than structural changes, he said.

Banchory Academy's headteacher, Sheila Di Maio, had told S1 parents earlier this session that because the new National 4 and 5 courses are designed to be fitted into 120 hours each, the school could timetable only five subjects into S4, said Mrs Christophersen.

The parent council chair added: "There will be no opportunity for early presentation. ie. if a child is capable, they will not be able to be examined in a subject prior to S4. The proposal is that children will follow a broad curriculum until the end of S3 and will start their options in S4."

The parent council's main concerns include:

- pupils' field of study will be narrowed too early in their school career;

- English and maths will no longer be core subjects; but if they are included for examination in S4, there will be little room for other subject choices;

- in S4, non-core subjects, such as languages, art, music etc are less likely to be chosen; this may lead to over-subscription for core subjects and some children may not be able to study the subjects of their choice.

Mrs Christophersen told The TESS that parents were very supportive of the broad aims of Curriculum for Excellence, but the potential restriction of the number of subjects examined would be "self-defeating".

"We feel that CfE must deliver qualifications that reflect its depth and breadth," she said.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said several examples of curriculum plans were now available on the Learning and Teaching Scotland CfE website. These included examples of how a young person could study up to eight subjects in S4.

He added: "Curriculum for Excellence is providing pupils across the country a rich and flexible learning experience and young people will be able to study up to eight subjects qualifications from S4.

"SQA are liaising with parents and parent councils to help explain developments, although the precise number and choice of qualifications provided will be a decision for schools to take in consultation with learners and parents."

Laura Mason, Aberdeenshire Council's head of education, said: "Headteachers in Aberdeenshire are working together with officers and with support from the national `Building your Curriculum' team to develop curriculum structures which both reflect national advice and local communities.

"The curriculum plans and timetables for learning will be developed by headteachers and their staff in each community. In the future, S4 will be part of the S4-6 senior phase curriculum."

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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