Radical shift for schools

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Perth and Kinross Council is drawing up plans to split the school day into an early and late shift, move principal teachers in secondary from a subject-only to a "whole-school" remit, and pare down the core curriculum in secondary
Perth and Kinross Council is drawing up plans to split the school day into an early and late shift, move principal teachers in secondary from a subject-only to a "whole-school" remit, and pare down the core curriculum in secondary.

A two-shift model, based on schools being open from 7am to 10pm, could mean operating a junior school in the morning and senior school in the afternoon.

John Fyffe, the council's executive director of education and children's services, said such a system was delivered on the continent successfully but it required a shift in societal attitudes in this country.

The moves have been set in train by A Curriculum for Excellence, but have not yet been discussed in detail with unions or parent bodies.

Mr Fyffe won the backing of the authority's lifelong learning committee last week when he outlined his radical vision. He is placing considerable emphasis on providing each pupil with more opportunities to exercise "responsible personal choice" as they go through school. He therefore wants a reduction in the number of compulsory areas of study.

"English and maths would remain mandatory until pupils achieve appropriate levels in literacy and numeracy. PE and personal and social education (PSE) would remain mandatory until S6, and religious and moral education (RME) until S4," his report said.

Mr Fyffe told The TESS he believed that a "one size fits all" curriculum was no longer appropriate for secondary schools. He envisaged some schools having a stronger focus on vocational skills, while others might concentrate on sciences or other academic areas.

Such decisions would have to be made in consultation with parents and staff, but he was confident this approach would raise attainment, as it would allow pupils to choose the courses they wanted to do.

The cross-curricular nature of the new curriculum re-emphasised the "whole-school" leadership role of principal teachers, he argued. Creating a whole-school remit for PTs would help create the conditions to allow A Curriculum for Excellence to flourish, Mr Fyffe said.

He has set up a working group to consider changes to the structure of the working day, week and year in schools. The authority had six schools built under public-private partnership, twice the physical size of those they replaced and with a new remit as community hubs. "Why should they be open from only 9am till 3.30pm?" he asked.

In addition to the "two-shift" structure, the council will consider options, including the four-and-a-half day pupil-week which operates in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Douglas Stewart, local area secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland, said it was keeping a "close watching brief" on the development of the proposals. The EIS was opposed to another plan from the education authority - to have two or three small schools sharing a head, giving more responsibility for individual schools to a principal teacher.

But Mr Fyffe believes that, since 36 of the 76 primaries in Perth and Kinross are in the small schools category, such a model would relieve the pressures on teaching heads while improving recruitment and retention.

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