Still trooping down a road well travelled

29th October 2004 at 01:00
The Stacs (Standard Tables and Charts) which provide the secondary sector with an in-depth analysis of SQA results arrived at the beginning of October.

The new web-based version is much improved on the old one and at last we can view it all on screen without having to resort to the lateral scroll keys constantly.

Although we do our own analysis of results when they arrive in August, the Stacs software is a comprehensive tool to evaluate progress. The only problem is that its timing is out of kilter with the improvement planning cycle. I've tended to delay the finalisation of our school plan until its arrival and as a consequence, given the timetable which authorities are required to work to, you can imagine how popular my tardiness makes me.

Hopefully, now that the web version has been developed, the next Stacs will be with us in September.

The discussions following the receipt of the tables take place at many levels within education authorities: at authorityheadteacher level, at school level, at departmental level and with individual pupils. Usually, the picture which schools begin to see in August becomes clearer as the discussions continue.

Once we are past analysing the subjects which have done well and looking closely at areas where performance was disappointing, we again begin the process of trying to find another angle, something else which might help our pupils to perform better in examinations.

The pressure is on us, as it is on schools all over Scotland. Is there something else which we haven't tried? What are other schools doing? My secondary headie colleagues will know the script off by heart; we take part in this piece of theatre annually.

So it is no wonder that the great debate about the curriculum rages on and this has been reflected in TES Scotland articles. The views of headteacher Brian McNaught on Garnock Academy's experiment of embarking pupils on National Qualification courses early and the opposing views of his principal teacher of English, John Hodgart (TES Scotland Plus, September 24), typify the national debate. Marj Adams, a teacher at Forres Academy, entered the debate (TES Scotland, Opinion, October 8) on Mr Hodgart's side.

In the same edition, Brian Boyd, in his Platform article celebrating the famous Christopher's rite of passage to Glasgow University faculty of law, opines that the examination system may be the biggest single barrier to change.

These are issues which have been exercising school leaders for a long time.

We have to play the game according to the rules we have and at this time these are that examination results do count, at all levels.

Pressure is on us to improve continually and thus, given the importance of SQA results, we strive to find ways of improving these. Yet we are deeply concerned about the route which we are forced down, knowing full well its flaws and drawbacks.

Many years ago, I joined John Murray, headteacher of Lochgilphead High in Argyll, on a working group to examine curricular flexibility as a means to improving attainment. We came up with various models, one of which reflected our knowledge of the US education system.

We removed the agestage structure and considered the school population as individuals at different stages in attainment. Thus, at S1 they entered Access or Intermediate 1 according to their prior attainment in P7, and so on. To cut a long story short, in any one class there could be pupils ranging in age from 12 to 18. However, by exit year, all pupils in this system would be attaining at far higher levels and across a broad range of subjects.

The model, of course, was rejected but I mention it as an example of where this route might take us while attainment is the aim and the curriculum is the vehicle. Although the drum beats about achievement and national priorities include many wider and laudable aims for education, attainment and the curriculum are still the kingpins.

The rhetoric is fine but the actions and the values don't reflect it. Again I am asking the question, just what does this nation wish for the generations of tomorrow?

Scots makar Edwin Morgan, in his hymn to democracy to mark the opening of the new parliament building, says it all.

What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture.

A nest of fearties is what they do not want.

Maybe it is about time we applied this to education.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban High

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