Shoehorned into courses

25th February 2000 at 00:00
THE article by Doreen Thomson (TESS, February 4) illustrates for me not so much the inadequacies of the Higher Still framework as the result of the pressures under which learning support teachers in secondary schools now have to work.

If she is to continue her involvement at S5 and to build her support for pupils at this level on firm foundations, she needs to be given time and opportunities to develop her skills. She needs the chance to familiarise herself with course documents in all the subjects being offered at her school; to go on in-service courses, not just in English, but in maths, science, social subjects and so on.

I too am concerned that

pupils in her school seem to be being "shoehorned" into courses which are inappropriate for their needs. But is this a result of the Higher Still guidelines or is it the result of sloppy thinking on the part of school management and teaching staff?

For years those of us in learning support have been questioning the validity of Standard grade English at Foundation level for those pupils with very weak literacy skills who have struggled through the course and have toiled, with their teachers, to produce adequate folio pieces to meet the criteria. Much redrafting has been required. Mny students have hated English and English teachers by the end of the course.

It is most unusual, however, for students to gain an award below a 5 and very few students are awarded a 5. Most of those students achieve a 4. I believe that the Higher Still programme offers the chance for a much more honest assessment of what a student can do by eliminating the pretence that a piece of work redrafted many times represents a student's true ability.

In good English courses students study a wide variety of texts and the Higher Still guidelines signal to me that this will continue. If students are having to do one poem and one short story "to death" in order to satisfy performance criteria, then there just might be something wrong.

Perhaps Doreen Thomson would be interested in attending a conference to discuss how the first year of Higher Still has gone for students with learning difficulties at all levels. This is currently being planned for September 6 at the Jordanhill campus of the University of Strathclyde. Details will be in schools shortly.

Isobel Calder

Principal teacher, learning support, Denny High School (seconded to the department of special educational needs, Jordanhill campus)

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