Why 2+2+2 equals a problem

24th February 2012 at 00:00
Not for those who actually teach, but for the people in charge at Education Scotland

t would seem that I'm one of "a growing band of diehards" who is to be "encouraged to change" and given "support" (TESS, 10 October). However, like a reluctant member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I have yet to recognise that I have a problem.

I actually thought things were going well. Teachers in Lochaber High have worked hard to embrace the principles of Curriculum for Excellence; the school is buzzing with learning opportunities within subjects, through interdisciplinary learning, in association with external partners and in extra-curricular activities. New teaching methodologies are augmenting the more traditional with many staff involved in a teacher learning community through the Tapestry initiative. Departments are getting to grips with the Es and Os and working groups are making progress on literacy, numeracy and health and well-being.

But a problem has arisen in the area of curriculum structure. Our plans to stick with the tried and tested 2+2+2 structure do not seem to meet with the approval of Education Scotland. Yet I thought we had done everything right. Building the Curriculum 3 stated boldly, "Establishments have freedom and responsibility to meet the needs of children and young people in their local communities". Pupils, parents and staff have been consulted and clearly favour a curriculum structure which is similar to the current 2+2+2, leading to most pupils achieving eight Nationals (N4 or N5) at the end of S4. We are exercising that freedom and doing what we think is best for the young people in our care.

Any teacher worth their salt knows that pupils start to lose focus by the end of S2; they are ready to move on, to choose the subjects where they're likely to achieve and concentrate their efforts on areas that will help towards their future careers. Why on earth would we want to delay that transition? For years we've been told that our young people underachieve in S2; it has even been described as a "dead" year. Surely it can't be right to extend this for a further year without introducing the motivation of working for nationally recognised qualifications.

Moving to a combined S456 cohort for the senior phase with a choice of only five subjects at the end of S3 will decimate some subjects: business studies, computing, drama, economics, French, Gaelic and graphic communication would disappear from our curriculum. This can only have a limiting effect on choice for S56. Take the pupil who chooses five subjects for S4 but does not achieve in one of them - how does heshe progress to five subjects in S5?

Do we really want to replicate the "two-term dash to Higher in S5" with a "two-term dash to National in S4"?

Another curriculum model advocates choosing eight subjects at the end of S3, and studying them for two years, to sit either National 5 or Higher at the end of S5. This must disenfranchise the bright S4 pupil who chooses to leave school at the end of S4, who has only been able to sit National 4.

I believe in the principles of Curriculum for Excellence and have done so for a lot longer than Curriculum for Excellence has been around. I lead a school community that has made a conscious decision to stick with what is known to work and I'm convinced that we can deliver a broad general education to the end of S3 - and begin work on eight Nationals to be studied over two years.

Jim Sutherland is head of Lochaber High.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today