S1 overhaul shapes up

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Keith Grammar's pilot reform of the early secondary years has led to the majority of pupils being better motivated and working with greater application, according to an evaluation of the project's first phase published on Tuesday.

The school has compressed the coursework of the first two years into S1 and starts Standard grade courses a year early in S2.

Phase two will attempt to create a three-year upper school from S4, involving vocational, further and higher education. It is this experiment that has persuaded Lord Laidlaw to part with some of his cash (see right).

Despite generally positive findings, the phase one evaluation at the Moray school found some concerns among teachers and parents about the ability of less able pupils to cope and their maturity in choosing exam subjects after only a year in secondary.

John Aitken, the school's headteacher, said he did not share the oncerns.

"I will be very interested in our Standard grade results this year," Mr Aitken commented.

On the credit side, teachers felt that high attaining pupils were benefiting and that the accelerated course was pulling up those in the middle of the class.

The report, by Fran Payne and Margaret Gooday of Aberdeen University and Mary Simpson of Edinburgh University, explored whether the school had been successful in its attempt to tackle lack of progress at S1-S2. This entailed developing a revised 5-14 curriculum across 16 school departments.

Staff in associated primary schools reported that they had not had to alter their curriculum to any degree beyond the normal fine tuning already established.

Keith Grammar teachers reported that, to compress two years of coursework into S1, they had cut out material where content or skills had been duplicated across subjects in the past or which was regarded as redundant.

The senior management team believed the new S1 curriculum had appropriate coverage of skills and strands and reinforcement of activities across subjects, such as investigating. They felt that an increase in pace had been introduced along with a reduction of assessment. However, some teachers felt there had been a loss of enriching experiences for pupils.

The school also reviewed its homework policy in the light of criticisms that secondary schools were not handing out enough exercises. While an external reviewer had told the school its revised practice was in line with national recommendations, the researchers found that a significant minority of pupils and parents felt that, for a variety of reasons, the allocation was sometimes excessive.

The majority of staff felt the revised S1 course was an improvement and that the overall pace of work was right for most pupils. Their main concerns were associated with the loss of specific content or learning experiences and many indicated that further cuts might be necessary.

Pupils found French, German, science and maths the most difficult but the year above, who were not on the accelerated course, reported the same feelings. However, some pupils felt they were being rushed and needed more support than the teacher had time to give them.

Parents of high attaining pupils were generally positive, as were parents who perceived that their child received adequate support. The most positive effect reported was that pupils appeared motivated and stimulated and they were pleased about being able to drop disliked subjects.

Parent concerns focused on whether children were familiar enough with some subjects to make choices at the end of S1, that work was sometimes rushed and not necessarily revised and understood, and that there was potentially too much pressure.

The researchers stated: "There were conflicting views on the evidence so far available on the effects on attainment so teachers were reluctant to make judgments as to whether the revised S1 course had had a positive effect until they had received the end of year S2 exams and Standard grade results in S3, although some teachers cited evidence of pupils having improved knowledge and skills in S2.

"Differences in the pupils, in course content and in assessment were reasons given for not being able to make direct comparisons with data from tests in previous years. Teachers seemed reassured that the high attainers were benefiting, but had concerns about the progress of low attaining pupils."

The first cohort of S3 pupils to sit Standard grades will do so this summer.

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