Radical reforms to rouse pupils
Jim Cathcart believes there is no alternative to a complete overhaul if motivation and attainment are to be improved among pupils who cannot cope with the pressures of the traditional eight Standard grade package. He estimates that about 15 per cent of his pupils are turned off by their education.
His plan includes Higher Still courses spanning S3-S6 from Access to Advanced Higher levels.
But the main union is not convinced and is warning against the dangers of creating "second class schools."
Castlemilk's immediate aim is to offer a compulsory core curriculum of English, maths, physical, religious and personalsocial education. Pupils would choose another three subjects from science, creativeaesthetic studies, modern languages and technology.
Mr Cathcart first floated his ideas in a paper he produced earlier this year entitled Back to the Future (TESS September 4).
He acknowledged that there would be "a slight narrowing" of the curriculum. But he later told the TESS: "I would argue that this is a price worth paying. If pupils have a freer choice, they will choose what they think is important which is therefore likely to help their motivation."
Extra time would be available to build in such aspects as health education, education for work, life skills and parenting expertise.
"The present curriculum may make sense in theoretical terms but not from the young person's point of view," Mr Cathcart said. "We are not saying our approach will solve the problem, but the current system hasn't solved it either. "
Eventually, perhaps within five or six years, Mr Cathcart foresees that Standard grade courses will wither away.
The new post-16 Higher Still Access and Intermediate courses could be taught in S3 and S4 and he observes that "it would be pointless to teach courses at Standard grade which have a Higher Still equivalent."
Castlemilk is one of the secondaries which will become the educational focus of seven "regeneration areas" in Glasgow. They will be expected to adopt "flexible approaches" to teaching in the third and fourth years. The city council has already called for "good vocational education, particularly for disadvantaged young people, for those with special needs and for those with attendance or behavioural difficulties."
But the Educational Institute of Scotland says that while it has been assured that pupils who wish to follow the traditional curriculum in these schools will be able to do so, more able youngsters would drift away and the schools will come to be regarded as second-class.
Willie Hart, Glasgow secretary of the EIS, said it was important that those pupils did not lose out and that consultation with staff was all-important. EIS members in Castlemilk had already protested at the decision to offer first year pupils a "non-core curriculum" which they labelled a return to "remedial classes."
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Castlemilk High and its local primaries are considering appointing specialist teachers to their "cluster" rather than to individual schools, Mr Cathcart said.
This would make subject expertise more available to primary six and seven classes and, combined with a reduction in teachers for S1 and S2 pupils, help smooth the transition.
Other advantages would include a more unified approach to teaching subjects like science, and releasing primary teachers for early intervention and support which would eventually benefit the secondary.
Support services such as social workers, psychologists, health staff, attendance officers and a parent officer would be more closely integrated within the local cluster. "This is the embryo of the Government's new community schools," Mr Cathcart said.