Imagine S4 – an evolving post

I’ll develop a outline of an S4 curriculum here over the next three weeks. This post links with Imagine S6, Imagine S5, Imagine S3, Imagine S2 and Imagine S1, and Reverse Engineering.

This will be a different kind of post as I will publish it as it goes, i.e. THIS POST IS NOT YET COMPLETE

Having begun to sketch out the S3 curriculum and the S6 curriculum the S4 curriculum is becoming a little clearer.

The key to envisaging the S4 Curriculum is to see it as part of the senior phase of secondary education – it is not an entity in itself and classes will be composed of students from all of the year groups within that senior phase.

In my Imagine S3 post I set out a possible end point for the early phase of secondary education to be a Scottish Certificate of Education which recognised a broad range of achievements, skills and attributes – which in turn established a very strong foundation for the certificated curriculum – but which also gave a clear indication as to the employability – at that stage – of an individual.

A Consultation on the Next Generation of National Qualifications sets out a the following:

8. Every young person should be able to move into the qualifications framework at a level that is appropriate to their needs. For example, vulnerable learners may focus primarily on Access qualifications in S4 and progress either laterally within an SCQF level or through other SCQF levels. The majority of young people should move into the new qualifications at SCQF level 4 or 5 in S4. Some will then be able to progress to Highers at a later point. The most able young people should be free to study for Highers from S4 (see Proposal 4).


Increased flexibility to better meet the needs of young people. Suggestions include:

  • studying National Qualifications over 18 months (or 2 years) as well as one year;
  • introducing a winter diet of examinations; and
  • encouraging the most able young people to bypass lower level qualifications and to study Highers from S4 onwards.

The following clearly sets out the shape of the senior curriculum:

Implications for curriculum planners

13. For young people leaving at the end of S4, the expectation is that they would be able to follow a maximum of five courses leading to qualifications during the year, in addition to taking the awards in literacy and in numeracy. Having demonstrated their literacy and numeracy skills through the new awards, some young people might choose not to take English and Mathematics at the same level, opting to concentrate on subjects in which they may achieve stronger results and on which they might build future learning at college or with an employer. Many young people, however, will still elect to take English and Mathematics at the same or higher levels.

This contrasts with the 8 or even 9 subjects that most students currently sit at the end of S4.  The reason being that it’s almost impossible to offer a mix of time blocks to students of the same year.

However, I don’t see this to be a great problem.  Many students look forward to being able to reduce the number of subjects for which they formally study for qualifications, as all too often the “extras” for which they have no great enthusiasm or aptitude do not enhance their employability nor their life chances.

 The fact that students will have reached a mimimum level of literacy and numeracy by the end of S4 will do away with the need for compulsory Maths and English in S4.  Students who wish to enhance their numeracy and literacy skills will have the oppportunity to take additional qualifications in these areas – which may or may not be developed through other subjects.

The Course Choice Process

The school offers all students a free choice of subjects – depending upon suitability. The traditional idea of a subject columns and balanced programmes of study will not be a requirement given the broad course that people have followed up to the end of S3. Students will choose courses leading to Highers, Scottish Certificates of Numeracy and Literacy; alternative lower levels of certified courses; work experience; Health and Well Being; and personal learning tutor time.

Timetabling the senior phase

The key to unlocking the senior phase of the curriculum will undoubtedly be the timetabling process. The great benefit which is constantly referred to in this model is the notion of the “two year higher” – contrasting with the current “two term dash” with all the associated problems of delivery, depth of learning and content coverage.

One of the ways in which the “two year higher” can be conceptualised is the traditional idea of a “class”, which stays together for two years and may be taught by the same teacher throughout. Although this seems to be the most sensible model in terms of continuity it places huge limitations upon the timetable.

The alternative – which I would prefer – is to consider the senior curriculum as a “unitised” matrix of units which can be taken at any time over the three year period.

To provide some exemplification of what I mean here I’ll consider how History might be offered in the senior phase in such a format. NB – I’ve used Intermediate level awards for ease of reference

The number of senior students wanting to take History in our model school is as follows:

S4 = 35 x  Higher; 17 x Intermediate 2/1;

S5 = 32 x Higher; 12 x Intermediate 2/1; 1 x Advanced Higher;

S6 = 12 x Higher; 13 x Advanced Higher

Total senior students = 122 (79 higher; 29 intermediate 2/1; 14 advanced higher)

Class organisation:

A = Higher Units 1 & 2 — 1 class 26 students (this class would be composed of students taking Higher History for the first time)

B = Higher Units 3 & 2 — 2 classes, 26 and 27 students (these classes would be composed of a significant number of students who are in their second year of studying Higher History)

C = Intermediate 2/1 —- 1 class, 29 students

D = Advanced Higher —- 1 class, 14 students

Rationale for class structure – Students taking History for the first time would join class A and complete Units 1 and 2 over their first year. Class B is primarily for those students who have already completed Units 1 and 2, some of the students in these classesd will be able to take the Higher exam at the Wiinter diet of exams.  Those in class B who were not ready would continue on unitl the May Diet of exams.

If class A and Class B were not timetabled against each other it would be possible for some students to complete the higher in a single year by switching between classes, e.g completing Units 1 and 2 in Class A and Unit 3 in class B.

Some choice options:

  • Five highers over two years
  • Some Highers over one year and Advanced Highers over two years (S5 and S6) – for exceptionally able students
  • A combination of Highers and lower level courses.
  • Lower level of courses linking to college and work experience
  • Various levels of the Scottish Certificate of Numeracy and Literacy – compulsory for those who have not reached minimum standards..
  • Some courses will be available on-line – especially those which extend curricular choice beyond the norm.
  • Work experience; volunteering; college courses. 

I’ll consider here three examples of students’ learning programmes;


Maria achieved her Scottish Certificate of Education at the end of S3 and gained level 5 in her Scottish Certificates of Literacy and Numeracy and literacy. In her curricular achievements she gained entry level to any Higher course on offer in S4.

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  1. Pingback: » Imagine S2 - an evolving post Don Ledingham’s Learning Log

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