Elizabeth Buie reports on a change in direction for the SQA's annual awards to pupils and schools
The three nominees for the SQA "centre of the year" are: Daldorch House School, in Catrine, East Ayrshire, run by the National Autistic Society; Kersland School in Renfrewshire; and Jordanhill School in Glasgow.
The presence of the two special schools is in recognition of the purpose of the award, sponsored by RM, which is intended to acknowledge innovative ways of delivering SQA qualifications, particularly for pupils with special educational needs.
Daldorch is a residential school for 40 autistic children aged five to 19 where 60 per cent of pupils are non-verbal or have very little functional language. The school has a 24-hour curriculum and individualised programmes which can lead to pupils achieving NQ units, either under their own steam or supported by the school.
Laura Battle, depute principal (curriculum), said the school hoped to extend course options for pupils next year when a senior campus is to be provided for 16-21s. Kersland School has around 70 pupils with severe or complex learning difficulties and offers independent and supported NQ units that give accreditation for skills in personal and social development, team activities and preparation for the world of work.
Carol Jackson, the headteacher, said the awards had previously been focused on academic achievement, and the move away from that had benefited the school. "By the very nature of our children's needs, that is not terribly appropriate. But now we are getting accreditations that are functional."
More unexpected in this category is Jordanhill School. But it has impressed with its innovative and pragmatic approaches to exams. Paul Thomson, the headteacher, said: "We have not switched entirely to Intermediate courses, but neither do we reject them."
The school, for example, has opted for Intermediate courses in art, music and drama. It has stayed with Standard grade maths because that is seen as a better preparation for Higher, but has switched to Intermediate 1 and 2 in physics.
In a further twist, the top sets in English and French take Intermediate 2 in the run-up to Higher, but the others take Standard grade because it offers a fall-back to a General award for pupils who fail to gain a Credit pass.
The school's approach to course choice, quality assurance and target-setting is to be published in a case study as part of a national consultation on benchmarking.