Curriculum for Excellence in Dundee - Urgent Local and National Changes Required

 

Laurie Bidwell

8 February 2012

Now that the 33 period week has been abandoned in Dundee, parents and carers and members of the Education Committee need to know how our nine secondary schools will progress the new S3 which will run for the first time from August 2012.

We also need to know how the senior phase, S4-S6, will be structured.

The first students undertaking the new S4 on Curriculum for Excellence will begin their studies in August 2013.

This year of study will lead up to the examinations, National 4 and 5, in May 2013.

Although the new S4 was not strictly part of the consultation about the 33 period week, it was inquired about by parents at both of the consultation events I attended at Grove Academy and Morgan Academy.

The biggest bone of contention is the narrowed number of subjects that each pupil will apparently be able take in S4. Pupils will only be able to take a maximum of six subjects at National 4 or 5, the new exams, compared with a maximum of eight subjects at Standard Grade, which are being phased out.

While a model of the new 'senior phase' (S3-S6) has been sent to the Head Teachers in our nine secondary schools, there has not been a cheep to the Education Committee.

This should be remedied at the next Education Committee.

I have written to the Council requesting that this is added to the agenda of the next meeting of the Education Committee.

This narrowing of subject choice in S4 seems at odds with the stated aspirations of the Curriculum for Excellence which was supposed to provide a more comprehensive broad general education.

It seems we may have had all this upheaval to make S3 a general year with a wider number of subjects while postponing exams until S4 when there would be 25% fewer subject choices.

But not all these issues can be fixed on the spot in Dundee; some need attention at the national level by the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell.

For example, the slow pace of details being released by the Scottish Qualifications Authority about the new National Four and Five examinations is reducing the long term planning time in secondary schools.

This could be remedied by a one year postponement of implementing the introduction of the new examinations and continuing with Standard Grades for another year.

In similar circumstances in England, the government have been prepared to allow twelve months more for preparing for an important educational change.

Last week we learned that in East Renfrewshire, a Labour/SNP led council has decided to postpone putting its pupils in for the new exams by one year.

If we don't take this decision to postpone in the next few weeks, timetables will be written for next year and we will be saddled with a change that is being rushed in without the confidence of teachers, parents and carers that this is neither the right change nor the right timescale for the new exams.

If I met Michael Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, these are the four key questions I should want to ask him about making a success of the Curriculum for Excellence in Dundee schools:

Why, while advocating a broader general education via curriculum for excellence, is choice actually going to be decreased by a quarter in S4?

What has he got to say to the parents who have already complained about the effects of this reduced number of choices in S4 on the options for their child in meeting entrance requirements for some University courses?

Why has the Cabinet Secretary gone out of his way to antagonise teachers by cutting their conditions of work and their pensions at a time when he needs their undivided professional attention to make a success of implementing the Curriculum for Excellence and the new examinations?

Why has be allowed the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to get so far behind providing the documentation for schools and teachers so that they can adequately prepare themselves and their senior pupils for the new exams to be sat for the first time in May 2014?

Many parent are worried that their children are the unfortunate guinea pigs for all these changes.

Many secondary teachers feel they are under prepared and the changes in the Senior Phase (S4-S6) of Secondary Schools are being rushed.

Many parents have reservations too. Will he now provide another year of preparation time for the new examinations and review the limits on subject choices in S3/4?

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