It was the end of June and so the end of term when I found myself reminded of the reason why I adopted Guineapigmum as my nom de blog. Three years ago (was it really that long ago?) the school decided to bring the Standard Grade exams forward a year. The students would choose their 8 subjects at the end of S1 (Year 8 ) rather than S2 and sit their exams at the end of S3 (Year 10) instead of S4. They would choose their 5 subjects for Higher at the end of S3, do a 2 year instead of the more usual 1 year course and sit Highers as normal at the end of S5. Got that? Come on, keep up at the back of the class. If you stopped gossiping you’d know what I said.
GP1 was in the first year group to go through this system and so he sat his Standard Grades a year ago, in 2007. With this first cohort, the teachers had to deal with two entire year groups going through exams together. He is now one year through a two year Higher course whilst his younger brother is in the third group of students to pick their subjects at the end of 1st Year. I had many reservations, detailed at length elsewhere, but these centred around my feeling that the children were giving up too many subjects too early and that their general education (as distinct from exam results) was likely to suffer. But that was the system in place and so we got on with it.
Now, however, the rumour mill is rumbling. It seems that the school is heading back towards exams at the end of S4. Fine, except they seem to be starting with GP2’s year; he is now half way through the 2 year Standard Grade course but it sounds as though he may do some exams at the end of this coming year and others at the end of S4. No message to parents but the children were told by some of their teachers that this is likely to be the case. The assumption must be that the exam results didn’t showed the hoped for improvement, although it seems unlikely that this can be judged so early. Sounds like a muddle to me. GP2’s year may well end up doing some SG exams after a 3 year course. Perhaps they’ll do Intermediate 2? What will happen with their Higher course choice? The only benefit of the initial change that I could see was that the students had two years to do their Highers.
Deep sigh. Again, I think we’ll just have to live with it and hope that it doesn’t do too much damage to future prospects. As someone pointed out to me recently, any of the present bunch of students who have aspirations to do highly competitive courses such as medicine will really struggle to get in when in competition with those doing Highers in a single year. Fortunately for us, this is not likely to be an issue for GP1, who is benefitting from the 2 year course. His younger brother, though, is a different proposition.
But whilst we may just have to live with it, if I were a parent of a child about to enter S2 who has just had to choose 8 subjects for Standard Grade, I would be hopping. Why, if the school is moving back to the norm, are they still making the children narrow their syllabus so soon? And why are they not telling the parents what’s going on?
I suspect there must also have been issues that perhaps were not adequately foreseen. For example, I assume that normally a proportion of students would give up English and Maths after Standard Grade in S4 and that these wouldn’t necessarily be Higher subjects for everyone, however laudable an ambition that might be. However, both are compulsory until the end of S4 and so there is currently an entire year group taking these subjects at either Higher or Intermediate level. This would be fine if there were enough teachers. I was horrified to find out, at the end of last term, that there are 32 in GP1’s Higher English class. Thirty two. He has struggled with English this year despite a good pass at Standard Grade. One element of the course is a Personal Study of a book of the student’s own choice. The teacher could have 32 different books being studied; how on earth can she be expected to give any time to individuals who aren’t keeping up? We’ve now found a tutor and our darling eldest has relucantly been having to do some work over the holidays to try to catch up.
The impression is that the school has lost its grip on the situation. They singularly failed to get the new timetable into place after the SQA exams last term which meant that a lot of students had very little useful to do for the last month. There were all sorts of stories circulating about students having to move to their second or third choice subjects because of timetabling difficulties, with individual need being subsumed into the wider intricacies of the timetable.
Let’s hope the school hasn’t lost its grip and that people have been beavering away over the past few weeks to sort everything out. I hope one of the first things they sort out, once the timetable is in place of course, is some meaningful communication with the parents. Meanwhile, the guineapig epithet feels all too appropriate.
OK, tedious rant over. School’s back on Monday.
Photo credit: Edublogger