Subject choice overhauled
Sweeping changes to subject choice and timetabling for senior pupils are under way in West Lothian, The TESS can reveal.
The moves reflect early signs of the fresh thinking which the effects of the new curriculum and budget cuts are likely to produce in Scotland.
Under the generic title of a "West Lothian Campus", S5 and S6 pupils will be bussed to designated "host" schools (and the local college) to study minority subjects. These will be at Advanced Higher level but include Highers as well, where numbers are too small for them to be offered in every secondary.
The initiative will also make maximum use of online learning tools such as Glow and Scholar, and is being seen as particularly invaluable for encouraging take-up of the new baccalaureates. The authority envisages that the 2,700 fifth- and sixth-year pupils would only have to be bussed to another school once a week (they will be given a bus pass).
Gordon Ford, West Lothian's director of education and cultural services, believes the changes will be good for pupils socially because they will no longer have to study in isolated groups, as well as educationally because it will be a good preparation for university.
The plans are at the developmental stage and are being led by a working group chaired by Jim Cameron, headteacher of St Margaret's Academy in Livingston. Mr Ford hopes nonetheless that the new arrangements will get under way in August and be fully established by 2013-14.
He commented: "The philosophy behind this is our wish to provide a top- drawer service to senior pupils, while recognising that efficiencies have to be made and that classes of three or four pupils are just not sustainable."
West Lothian's 11 secondaries have Advanced Higher classes ranging in size from 3.8 to 7.2. This limits choice because pupils cannot always study what they want, and it has a knock-on effect for the rest of the school, as disproportionate staffing and accommodation are allocated to the more academic students, the council argues.
Mr Ford said the original motivation behind the initiative was to end the "postcode lottery" whereby size of school often determined what senior pupils could study. But he accepted that the need to make budget savings was now a factor: each of its secondary schools will have its budget cut by pound;300,000 on average over the next three years - the equivalent of seven teachers.
Despite this, and the fact that the changes will require teachers to work more flexibly, the unions have not yet raised objections publicly. Mr Ford has tried to reassure them, stressing that "we actually want to protect teachers' jobs and this is one of the ways of doing it, by ensuring we can continue to offer minority subjects to our pupils".