Monday, 13 February 2012

Reflections on Curriculum for Excellence

One of the many challenges facing Headteachers of all of Scotland’s secondary Schools is in reassuring parents and pupils that the revised S3/4 Curriculum for Excellence (for the current S2) is ready to go and is at least as good as what we currently offer. A few days ago we learned that East Renfrewshire Council has decided to postpone for a further year but all other Councils remain on track with the current S2 entering the next phase of implementation when they start S3 in June of this year.

A friend recently alerted me to this succinctly presented and plain English summary from the BBC on what Curriculum for Excellence is about. I like this version from the BBC but I think that there needs to be more discussion around the assumption that the 3/3 model is superior to the 2/2/2 version. Parents and teachers are, understandably, anxious about what some perceive to be as less time preparing for exams. Exam results often dictate the tone of HMIe reports and results are the means by which school leavers are selected for the various destinations beyond school. Some will argue that if you remove league tables of school comparisons of, for example, % of S4 roll achieving 5+ Highers by end of S5 then we would, at the stroke of the pen, remove many of the ills associated with our Scottish system. In regard to the current (proposed) 3/3 model the parents I have recently worked with across 2 schools are opposed to it as they see more advantages accruing from the traditional 2/2/2 model. Some colleagues I have worked with see the first phase of the 3/3 model as an extended version of the current S1/2 which, they suggest, lacks challenge, relevance and rigour. Others see the 3/3 model as centrally/externally driven and, in the absence of discussion and debate, are resistant to change without a sound rationale. There are also though a number of teachers I work with who consider that a further year of a broad general education (BGE) enabling pupils to deepen their learning and develop learning skills as a change for the good.

Over the past few years schools have evolved in different ways to suit the needs of their learners in their particular contexts. I would suggest that across our schools we need to more closely consider where learners are at in their particular 'journeys' before committing them to a further year of a BGE in S3 where they may be treading water. We know from research that, in terms of literacy alone, children's backgrounds have a significant bearing on what they are capable of by the time they start school. This gap does not necessarily disappear by the time they are in their early teens. It could therefore be argued that some children need more time to develop before leaving the BGE phase and entering the more intense senior phase. It follows therefore that some children may be ready to begin the senior phase before the end of S3. Some schools have facilitated this in recent years by allowing pupils to sit exams early. The assumption or requirement that all children should wait until S4 before embarking on exam preparation needs further discussion/ debate if hearts and minds are to be won. In the meantime, I suspect that some schools will continue with the 2/2/2 model. In so doing, one shouldn't assume that the 2/2/2 structure and a BGE are mutually exclusive.

Based on discussions I have had with teachers over the past few weeks, I am satisfied that JGHS is ready and raring to go. For the coming session we will continue with a 2/2/2 model with all pupils selecting 8 subjects as they enter S3. On entering S5 they will then reduce to 5 subjects. In the next two years our school will continue to develop the range of subjects on offer in order to ensure that we are catering for all of our pupils. In addition we will seek to ensure that ‘employability skills’ are integrated across the curriculum.

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