Valuing a broad based S1 – S3 curriculum?

By engaging in the reverse engineering process I’ve started to throw up some issues which hadn’t been quite as obvious until you try to deal with some of the practical challenges presented by the guidance set out in A Curriculum for Excellence.

One of these emerging problems has been in relation to the S1 – S3 curriculum – which I’ve started to explore in Imagine S3.

Whilst there is a general recognition that the early years of secondary education are a period of educational stagnation and even regression for many students it can at least be given value by being linked to the certificated curriculum.  In fact such is the power of this “value through certification” that some schools in Scotland have introduced the certificated curriculum even earlier. The logic for this step is quite compelling and it certainly demonstrates that a school is dae’n sumthin” to address the fallow early years of secondary school.

Against this background schools are being asked to develop an S1 – S3 curriculum which is broad based and prepares students for the “senior phase of education which provides opportunities to obtain qualifications…” In my Imagine S3 post I am proposing to follow that guidance and that the only formal certification which will take place in these early years of secondary education will be in numeracy and literacy.

In my exemplar curriculum the focus in S1 – S3 would be upon an “employability portfolio” – which would include numeracy and literacy and a range of other evidence of the range of life, learning and work skills which the young person has developed up to that point. I know that for some the idea of employability as a focus for education is a step too far, but I’d ask that you go with me here as I think we can flesh out a definition of employability which would be compelling, inclusive, and above all, easily understood by young people, parents and the wider community. Nevertheless, it would remain a fact that the S1 – S3 curriculum would not be certificated – as we currently know it.

Now compare this against the school which has early certification who can point out that by the time young have completed S3 they have a a set of formal qualifications. So the question is-  would parents value something akin to what I have described as the S1 – S3 broad, employability focused curriculum which would provide their child with a set of skills to go forwards into the rest of the lives as learners and adults – or would they just like to have the comfort of certificates as concrete evidence of achievement?

Yet the question does not just pertain to parents – the leap that such shift would require in the thinking and practice of teachers themselves might present a barrier which in itself would undermine the success of any such change to the S1 – S3 curriculum.

The last group who need to engage with this question are the young people themselves.  Ironically, in many circumstances in schools, it can be the students who are the most conservative, i.e. they like what they know. Yet I believe that if they were to be actively involved in creating and shaping their curriculum – with a focus upon employability – schools could create something exciting, productive and well placed to build upon the primary school experiences and prepare for the senior phase of school and beyond.


11 thoughts on “Valuing a broad based S1 – S3 curriculum?

  1. So are you proposing a complete cultural change to Education in Scotland?
    Removal of the SQA as an Exam body and emphasis more on evaluation of outcomes? Perhaps a wide ranging “baccalaureate”? With an ePortfolio (E meaning Employment and Electronic)
    I agree to all that, if thats what you mean, but thats not what we have at the moment.
    As a school which has removed age and stage to allow courses to run for a single year (Note, we run courses most of which have exams as assessment. We don’t run courses to get certification) and therefore pupils sit exams earlier than is traditional.
    The advantages are that pupils get more choice and experience of courses at the appropriate level by the end of their school experience.
    We are working within a system and that system measures most outcomes through exams. If (When?) that changes then the way we organise courses, but the fundimental ethos of giving pupils as much choice as possible is important.
    You really are going to get over and see what we are doing. You and John Connell would have a very interesting time both in the school and then in a nice pub with us to talk through all our thoughts. We really should try and set this up.

  2. Thinking such as this and such open discussion makes East Lothian increasingly appear to be a very attractive place in which to work as a teacher…

  3. I like the idea of a broad-based curriculum in S1-3 which isn’t exam driven, so I’m pleased to see this outlined in this post. I do however empathise with many teachers concerns that many pupils lose motivation & focus in S1/3 without the impending exams. It would be crucial to develop really well thought out courses to engage and motivate as many learners as possible and as fully as possible.

    I’m interested to see what your vision of S4 is. From the NQ consultation it appears the idea is pupils would then either enter a one-certificated course, or progress onto a two year Higher course. Recent discussions with colleagues have suggested that for the vast majority (including most very bright pupils) they do benefit from completing an examined course before Higher, to prepare them for the structure/approach/study/exam style etc.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  4. Could you take a look at what I’m exploring in the S3 post.

    I’m suggesting we could develop a Scottish Certificate of Education for this stage.

    I’m not convinced about the need to sit an exam before Highers. What matters more is the quality of learning and teaching.

  5. Ah, I see. Thank you for pointing that out. Very sorry, a bit bogged down with my obligatory start of term cold.

    Very interesting idea. I’m a big fan of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and can therefore see the benefits of using this as a metaphor for this proposal. It’s difficult to see the mechanics of the whole system still, as you’re still quite early on. However, I like what I see so far!

    Are there other branches of Scottish Education putting forward this idea already? Or is this your own? The reason I ask that as I’m interested in the likelihood of this idea being adopted nationally?

  6. A very stimulating post and associated comments.
    Much seems to depend on flexibility- of mind, attitude, but also staff deployment, resources and timetabling. Do we imagine pupils would study the same “subjects” (by which I mean the contexts through which your notion of employability is to be taught) throughout these three years, or do you envisage a menu of options from which pupils constuct an individual three-year programme of work which would have many subjects but built-in paths of progression. Is this philosophy not a little like 5-14, where S1-S3 curiculum is more akin in structure to the Primary day?
    What would be the relationship of a general S1-3 course with the current P7 curriculum?
    If pupils have to do three years instead of two years of a core curriculum, will they lose motivation? A lot of youngsters are only too pleased to drop certain subjects at S2, and take on new ones. Across Scotland thinking seems to be polarised between early specialisation, testing and presentation, on one hand, and a more general education with fewer quaifications on the other. I wonder what is the dominant model in other European countries?

  7. Jim

    Thanks for this. I’ll explain my thinking when I set out the S1 and S2 curriculum.

    I think we can avoid the motivation problemn if we gave value to the S3 certificate.

    I do envisage some form of specialisation in line with the personalisation of the curriculum.

    There is no one dominant model in Europe but many of the more successful countries don’t opt for early extrenal certification.

  8. I’d love a secondment in a small school set up to trial this. I think a small trial would have to be set up but definitely the most important part of learning is within the school is whe we all learn for the real world. That goes for the top academic kids too. We are not only preparing them for university, if that is their destination, but for life beyond.

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