Specialists can deliver;Letter

16th July 1999 at 01:00
I FIND it quite shocking that you should on the one hand note in your editorial ("The Class Divide" TESS, June 11) that one of the strengths of Scottish secondary education is that it is delivered by subject specialists and yet support the notion that if a generalist can deliver the primary curriculum then the S1S2 curriculum should be delivered in the same way.

Are specialists only needed from S3 on? Why the arbitrary cut-off point at the end of S2? Why not have primary-qualified staff deliver the curriculum for the 11 years of compulsory education?

If it is the case that Scottish secondary teachers have a good, all-round education it is more likely to be because the Scottish curriculum in secondary schools was always broader than its English counterpart, especially in the upper school, so that a linguist like myself would still have had the opportunity of taking Highers in science and maths as well as in two foreign languages. The fact that all these subjects are delivered by specialists is a testimony to the effectiveness of their efforts .

One of the problems faced now in the drive to put modern languages into primary schools is that primary staff do not feel confident in their ability to teach something of which they only have minimal knowledge. Indeed, the perceived problem of the breadth of the S1S2 curriculum is a follow-on from the primary curriculum where the problem of excessive breadth and insufficient depth seems to be addressed by no one.

There is simply no argument for doing away with the requirement for specialists in S1 and S2. Teachers who struggle to keep one jump ahead of the pupils are, in effect, pupil-teachers, the reintroduction of which does not appear to me to be progress but rather the reverse. The logical extension of what Douglas Weir said at the GTC is that only methods matter. That is the triumph of form over substance or, put another way: it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it. No account is taken of the fact that the way in which say, science is taught in secondary schools differs considerably from the way in which maths or English are taught. Just because you know how to teach art doesn't mean you can equally well teach home economics.

Mr Weir is right in one respect. I am adopting a "defensive" position here I am defending the right of secondary pupils of all ages to be taught by people who have not only been trained in pedagogical methods but who know the subject as well. In this one area of education the General Teaching Council stands as a guarantor of quality.

The real reason this argument is being brought forward now is more likely to be a financial one than an educational one. Properly qualified teachers of certain subjects cannot be found because the wage rates are miserably low. The solution is immediate and substantial wage rises for all teachers. A dilution of standards is undoubtedly more attractive from a financial point of view but in the end if you pay for a second rate service then that is what you will get.

Martin Rogan

Principal teacher of modern languages

Maxwelltown High School

Dumfries

Former member of the GTC

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