Proposals unveiled by North Lanarkshire to give the early secondary years a "radical edge" (page one) stress the need for cluster group planning to ensure stronger links and better progression from primary to secondary. Pathway materials will be introduced to improve pupils' transition as they move from P7 to S1.
The subjects taught in S1-S2 will then be reduced so that pupils spend longer "on task". Schools could also switch to delivering particular areas or modes of the curriculum through a single subject, a controversial suggestion which could mean history squeezing out geography and modern studies as the vehicle for teaching the social subjects, for example.
The North Lanarkshire plan also envisages that the 20 per cent flexibility time recommended in the national guidelines for the first two secondary years will be "more focused". This is intended to increase the amount of time allocated to key subjects, help with the core skills and health education, support whole-school activities such as educational visits and deal with first-level guidance issues like profiling, target-setting and assemblies.
The authority is considering the designation of level E as "the point of pupil graduation" from the 5-14 programme. This would allow first-year pupils who reach this level in mathematics and English to start Standard grade courses early in S2. Pupils could sit the Standard grade exam either in S3 or in S4, after consultation with staff and parents.
In S3 and S4, the main difference will be that schools will be given the opportunity to depart from the current modal structure, the much criticised division of the curriculum ushered in by the Munn committee in 1977. Michael O'Neill, the authority's director of education, said that the problem is that this does not allow pupils to follow their interests, aptitudes and abilities.
"A young person with interests in the creative and aesthetic area might not be allowed to do music and art. We suggest that if a person's aptitudes are in that area, then why can't they do music and art and drama or dance? The same applies to other subjects such as social subjects and science. The aim is to allow pupils the opportunity to follow what they are good at rather than be forced to do subjects," Mr O'Neill said.
There will be a core of four subjects in S3 and S4 and a choice of no fewer than two from the remaining four modes. Mr Sweeney envisaged most pupils would continue to do eight subjects but they would not be constrained by the eight-mode structure. The obligatory subjects will be English, maths, religious and moral education, and physical education, along with personal and social education.
"It is a matter for individual schools to determine the precise nature of the option structure within these parameters," Mr O'Neill said.
The North Lanarkshire scheme envisages Higher Still units being introduced alongside Standard grade courses across the ability spectrum rather than being confined to the less or more able, as recommended by the curriculum guidelines. Mr O'Neill said this "unnecessarily restrictive and divisive" limitation was not an efficient use of staff.
Despite the unhappy experience of the former Strathclyde Region, North Lanarkshire plans to resurrect area curriculum planning to ensure sure a wide a range of subjects. Link-ups with other schools and colleges to offer courses foundered in Strathclyde on the reluctance of many pupils to travel from their base school.
Platform, page 17