Huge budget cuts will lead to the most radical shake-up of secondary education in years, a council boss has predicted, as his own authority considers making pupils travel to other schools to take some courses.
Some minority subjects would have to be run as “twilight” classes, too, he predicted, in order to ease pressure on the timetable and to give students the chance to travel in from surrounding schools.
Concentrating a certain amount of Higher and Advanced Higher courses at a reduced number of subject “hubs” would increase efficiency and allow for “decent cohorts” of pupils, said Ian Robertson, Glasgow’s assistant director of education.
Headteachers have said that it is vital that such decisions are not taken on money-saving grounds alone, and that learning must take priority. The proposals in Glasgow come after councils recently signed up to the 2016-17 budget deal from the Scottish government, which many experts have warned represents a £350 million funding cut.
A union warned that fragmenting the provision of courses would undermine the teacherpupil relationship that was “fundamental” to Curriculum for Excellence.
A previous experiment in creating specialist subject hubs had led to some schools becoming unpopular, while other institutions found themselves oversubscribed, it said.
Mr Robertson made his comments to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee last week, when it was taking evidence from councils on school spending.
“The senior phase is a massive area for quite radical reform. Some of that work is in train; some of it is yet to come.
“The [secondary] phase is an expensive component of education,” he said. “And it can be an inefficient part of the curriculum. We have to sit down with secondary headteachers and tell them that, if their raison d’être is to optimise choice for young people, schools cannot be islands, which is how they have been working for years.”
He continued: “We are looking at Advanced Higher hubs whereby youngsters can be moved about the city at any point during the day so that we can get a decent cohort of youngsters doing the same subject. We will also move some Higher and Advanced Higher programmes, including minority Highers, into twilight activity.”
Staff ‘already overworked’
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said it was “fantastical” to think that already overworked teachers could turn up to teach twilight lessons.
According to Mr Flanagan, an failed experiment in Strathclyde in the 1980s to synchronise school timetables and have local institutions specialise in different areas had led to “sink” and “magnet” schools.
He said: “If you had a school that was delivering sciences, people thought, ‘Let’s just go there’ instead of attending their local one.”
He added: “Other than in extremis, if we start to create a model of teaching that does not revolve around the pupil-teacher relationship, we are moving away from the essence of what we have been trying to achieve under Curriculum for Excellence.
“CfE is meant to be about seeing education as more than studying to pass exams; it’s also meant to be about developing values and allowing interaction.”
Mr Flanagan also warned that there would be huge parental opposition to any significant move away from local schools delivering the full range of qualifications.
Eileen Prior, director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, confirmed that parents would object if such a policy simply meant offering less in local schools.
She called for a much more radical shake-up of the senior phase so that schools began to cater for all pupils, not just the academic.
Jim Thewliss, general secretary of secondary headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland, said that he found it “worrying” that the secondary education system was being seen as “inefficient”.
He said: “We’re quite happy to enter into discussions about how you get best value for your money in education but let’s look at it from a learning perspective, as opposed to a saving money perspective.”
University teaching hub could close
Glasgow City Council is considering backing out of an arrangement with a local university, which this year has resulted in 150 pupils from 28 secondaries studying Advanced Highers on campus.
Glasgow Caledonian University’s Advanced Higher Hub opened three years ago after being allocated just shy of £1 million from the Scottish Funding Council.
It uses senior teachers to deliver seven Advanced Highers to Glasgow pupils – who otherwise would not have access – during morning sessions (9am-12.30pm) and evening sessions (4pm-6.30pm) . The pupils are enrolled at the university as “associate students” and have access to all the university’s facilities, including its library and laboratories.
However, this academic year the city council needed to contribute £150,000 in order to keep the hub running successfully.
In the current financial climate, that level of funding is not sustainable, according to the local authority, which has set up a working group to look at alternatives.