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Turf war studies

THERE has long been intense rivalry among the social subjects in secondary school. Much of it hangs on the need to attract and retain pupils for Standard grade when, unlike in most subjects, pupils are given a choice and timetabling prevents anyone taking more than one of the trio of history, geography and modern studies. But teachers also face a problem with S1 and S2.

Some people - commentators rather than teachers, it has to be said - favour a continuation of "environmental studies", with which pupils are familiar from primary and which makes no rigid distinction among the social subjects. Since S1 and S2 are part of the 5-14 curriculum there is point to the argument, but it is widely criticised by teachers who are specialist historians, geographers or advocates for modern studies. Their views were trenchantly put at a Strathclyde University conference (page six). Diiding up the school year into blocks devoted to the subjects in turn is acceptable, teaching outwith one's specialism is not.

The 5-14 programme brings another problem. While its expectations for primary are clear and have now been well tested, there is still doubt about what levels E and F are intended to comprise. Lack of precision makes it harder for pupils and teachers to make the transition from all-embracing environmental studies to the notion of separate disciplines.

Commentators principally concerned with reducing the number of teachers to whom S1 and S2 pupils are exposed want heads banged together: teachers should accept that pupils of that age no more need experts teaching discrete social subjects than early secondary science has to be divided into physics, chemistry and biology. But without imposition the staffroom argument remains to be won.

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