St Aloysius does a U-turn

31st August 2007 at 01:00
A single external exam at the exit point from school will limit pupils, claims headteacher. Elizabeth Buie reports.

THE FIRST school in Scotland to drop Standard grades in favour of making Highers the first external exam its pupils sat has reverted to offering exams in S4.

St Aloysius College in Glasgow was one of the highest performing independent schools in Scotland, in terms of Higher passes, figures published last week by the Scot-tish Council of Independent Schools showed.

John Stoer, the first lay headteacher of the Jesuit school, issued a warning against moving to a system of a single external exam at the exit point from school. "Children need to experience doing exams and learn from the experience," he said. "If you just have one exam, it will have a limited range of subject qualifications and no accreditation given to other things, such as modern languages or maths which pupils may not have taken to Higher."

His views fly in the face of those of education gurus such as Ian Smith, founder of the consultancy Learning Unlimited. In his regular TESS column, Mr Smith last month appealed to Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, to adopt a policy of having only one externally-assessed exam at 18. This would suit universities, employers, parents and teachers.

Mr Stoer hesitated to suggest that his decision to phase in Intermediate 2 exams over the last two years had had a direct impact on the school's Higher pass rate. But he did feel that the reintroduction of exams in S4 had made his students better prepared for studying and sitting exams.

St Aloysius hit the headlines in 2002 when its then head, Father Adrian Porter, dropped Standard grades altogether to give pupils a straight run at Highers.

Mr Stoer decided to reintroduce an S4 exam Intermediate 2 in 2005, starting with English, maths and modern languages. Last year, Intermediate 2s were available in 12 subjects. This year, every subject will be offered at Intermediate 2 as well as Higher, with the exception of religious studies which the school offers as a GCSE because it has a Catholic syllabus.

The headteacher said there was almost universal support among staff for a return to an S4 exam. He said he did not want to enter pupils for exams a year early in S3 as some schools have chosen to do, to get away from the two-term dash to Higher. However, by entering pupils for exams in S4, they were being given mental preparation and study skills, instead of being "thrown in at the deep end" with a single exam.

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