A Glasgow secondary is taking a controversial approach to helping disadvantaged pupils. David Henderson reports
A Glasgow secondary has been accused of reintroducing remedial education, after revealing innovative plans to separate a small group of next session's first year pupils from their peers.
Around 14 pupils still at levels A or B will be given special tuition in reading, writing and arithmetic for part of the week when they enter Castlemilk High in August.
But James Cathcart, Castle-milk's headteacher, vigorously refutes the Educational Institute of Scotland's claim that the school is doing something other than the best for all its pupils.
He has the full backing of the city council. Ronnie O'Connor, senior depute director of education, said: "We support him."
The Glasgow branch of the EIS says it is "deeply concerned" that the school is excluding the young people from the company of their peers. The branch promises to support its members if the plan goes ahead.
Gill Mackay, union spokeswoman, commented: "This proposal can only damage the credibility of Glasgow's regeneration alliance schools and bring back the social exclusion of remedial classes a quarter of a century ago."
For 13 periods a week out of 30, the pupils will be given special tuition by a learning support teacher while their peers are studying English, mathematics and social subjects. They will use the Successmaker interactive learning package. The rest of the time they will share classes with their peers.
Mr Cathcart said all the young people concerned were struggling in primary. They would find it difficult to cope with the secondary curriculum without special help. This was a new approach to a long standing problem.
Mr Cathcart said: "It's not a remedial group because they are not separate all the time. These youngsters would be at a disadvantage in a fragmented first year curriculum.
"They will be in a small group with a very supportive learning support teacher, which will give them a feeling of security. Some get into mischief because they cannot cope with the work and others go into their shells. This will be much more like a primary classroom."
Mr Cathcart believes that the present system does not work well in the first year, particularly for pupils with difficulties. The school has been given two additional members of staff for three years to tackle disadvantage.
Mr Cathcart admits there will be benefits in other classes because the regular classroom teachers will have to spend less time dealing with problems.
He says that a sizeable group within the remaining 120 pupils in S1 are only at level C, are still vulnerable and require support. "Success with this group is critical if there is to be an improvement in the numbers of pupils gaining General awards rather than Foundation awards, a key measure of success by the end of S4. The smaller class sizes should by itself help as will the absence of the low attainers who demand so much teacher time from core classes," he says in a report.
The EIS, however, argues that the Government's target-setting agenda has forced the issue.
Mr Cathcart replied: "This is all aimed at raising standards. If you can do things better in schools, the targets will look after themselves."
Mr O'Connor described the one-off initiative as a support for learning.
He said: "I think it can work. And I do not think we will have as serious a problem in future years because of our early intervention strategies. But we have to recognise that some young people do have problems."