East Renfrewshire Council has taken the decision to start Standard Grade courses or their equivalent in Second year as opposed to Third Year.
According to Ian Fraser, the Head of Education, the
fast-track move was being considered for two reasons.
“One is the increased attainment and better skills and abilities of pupils coming from primary schools into secondary and they are performing at a higher level than previously,” he said.
“Secondly, it's trying to look at the top end of the system – the gold standard, the higher grade awards – and trying to give youngsters more time to prepare for Highers.
I have to admit to having a certain sympathy for both of these perspectives. Pupils are performing better then previously in primary schools and the one year dash for highers is very demanding.
However, Im worried about the encroachment of certificated courses further down the secondary school. Certification only serves to reinforce the separation between subjects; teachers get locked into the syllabus; and the demands of the exam become the driving force behind the learning experience.
How does all this fit with the curriculum for excellence? Teachers in East Lothian, in common with other teachers in Scotland, are doing some wonderful things in relation to formative assessment. They are throwing off the shackles of a limited curriculum model and exploring teaching approaches which excite and engage children.
Id like to suggest there an alternative to the fast track approach for secondary schools.
So what do I think?
- .Children need time to grow up without the pressure of certification
- Teachers need to work more closely with other subject teachers
- We should be using these two years to build upon childrens primary experiences and make best use of graduate specialists
- We should be focusing upon helping children to develop the four capacities which underpin the curriculum for excellence
These capacities being:
- Effective contributors
- Successful learners
- Confident individuals
- Responsible citizens
I do not believe that the certificated curriculum is best suited to enabling these capacities to be developed.
If we arent going to adopt the fast-track model then an alternative to the current model must be developed. The status quo is not an alternative.
Many schools are now operating subject rotation e.g. instead of doing three subjects a week, such as Geography, History and Modern Studies for one period each pupils get three periods of one of the subjects for one third of the year before they move on to the next subject. this doesnt really make any difference aside from reducing the number of teachers a pupil sees in a week.
Group common subject together and get one teacher to teach the common course, e.g. once again using the social subjects model a social subjects course is developed and taught by only one teacher this could require a modern studies teacher to teach the geography element of the course not really making best use of the subject expertise nor challenging the notion that the S1/2 curriculum is fairly low level stuff.
How about this?
Restructure the curriculum around the four capacities. For example – there are approximately 16 subjects in S1/2; split these subjects into four groups for S1 and a different group of four for S2.
Lets say we our split goes:
Group 1 History ;Geography ;Craft and Design
Group2Music; Art; Modern Studies; RME
Group 3 Science; PSE; Maths; ICT
Group 4 Languages; English; PE; Home Ec
Now well not worry if anythings missing here its just for fun. Then each subject group is then allocated a particular capacity to develop, e.g. Group 1 could focus upon developing confident individuals.
Each subject would reflect upon their existing curriculum and look at how it might reinforce the chosen capacity with examples – (it would not necessitate a complete course rewrite!) but particularly think abut the means of delivery to hopefully develop that particular capacity.
In addition to the relevant capacity each student would have to complete a project which linked all the subjects together whilst perhaps having a real focus on one of the areas. So if I was a pupil in Group 1 I might want to take one of the history topics a little further lets say Second World War (history) within my project I would have to make significant reference to Music, science and language. The project would be marked by the main project focus teacher, in this case history. I would have to consult with my subject teachers about my project and use their expertise to develop my project. I would have the option of completing my project with a partner or partners
The academic year would be split up into four parts, with students having to complete four projects in the course of the year. Each project would be commented (an overall mark would not be given) upon by a main subject teacher the focus of the comments would be upon the quality of the research, the structure of the project and originality of the links no doubt we can come up with better criteria than that.
Hopefully, in the course of the year, the quality of projects would improve. Project work would mainly be done at home but up to 25% of teaching time in a ¼ year period might be given over to project work. Projects would make significant use of
ICT probably being completed on a students virtual space.
Each year the subject groupings would be rearranged to enable different teachers to work together.
So what might be the outcomes of such a flight of fancy?
- Teachers would be working much more closely together.
- The four capacities would take a central place in the curriculum.
- We would have built a very strong foundation for certificated courses
- Children would have some opportunity to follow their interests
- Homework would be of real relevance to each child
- We would build upon childrens primary experiences
- We would make appropriate use of teacher expertise
- Children would see inter-connections between subjects and their learning
- Children could work at their own level and extend themselves
- Learning could be collaborative
- Teacher's have to work much more creatively and with a focus on education as opposed to certification
One obvious difficulty with this proposal is that it doesn't do anything about the one year dash for the “gold standard” Higher. I'd have to agree with this but I think if we were able to develop more effective learners in S1 and S2 then they should be able to handle higher courses more successfully. I also think we need to start to see preparation for Higher as a three year process, i.e. linking the S3/4 curricular experience with the S5 experience in a more coherent manner. I also think we need to realise that to develop a curriculum only to best serve the more academic end of the school then we are hardly meeting the needs of the lowest attaining 20%.
I'd welcome comments in this work in progress.
I found an interesting letter recently
From the Principal (not unconnected from this debate)