Saving the strugglers

4th September 1998 at 01:00
As a facile comparison, it is like disposing of furniture when moving from a large house to a smaller one. But Angus secondaries in following the HMI's injunction to reduce the number of teachers encountered by first and second-year pupils cannot simply dispense with armoires and easy chairs. The 5-14 curriculum still has to be fulfilled; for example, it would not be possible to remove social subjects just because they involve a number of subject specialists.

The trick for Angus schools, which will be closely watched by others anxious to learn, is to maintain the breadth of the curriculum but without the endless succession of teachers taking an S1 class for a period or two each week to the bafflement both of pupils used to the primary school regime and to the teachers who never get to know more than the most notorious troublemakers. Rotation of subjects would be an obvious ploy, but the adeptness with which pupils forget learning that is not reinforced (witness the regression after seven weeks' summer holiday) makes that a problematic solution. Where learning has to be cumulative, as with a language, it would make teaching all but impossible.

Yet the present S1 and S2 structure serves the interests of neither the fastest nor the slower learners. Therefore whatever the loss or inconvenience to individual subject teachers, there is no danger in an experiment like Angus's of sacrificing a successful regime.

Nor is there in efforts to help pupils further up the school. Some Glasgow secondaries have recognised that Standard grade, intended to ensure certification for all, is failing to give some pupils attestation worth having. James Cathcart, head of Castlemilk, which is already trying to give extra help to first-year strugglers, wants a slimmed down Standard grade diet. His report (page six) challenges 20 years of orthodoxy about the curriculum and assessment, but as with the Angus experiment the needs of individual pupils have to come first.

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