Giving up

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I’m not too sure what’s started me off on this again.  Perhaps it’s that S1 reports are due home today and my 12yr old is contemplating what subjects he’s going to take next year.  Or perhaps it’s the continued mutterings in the media about such things as English 14yr olds giving up History and the country consequently going to ruin.  Whatever, I’ve been thinking again about what the children are giving up rather than what subjects they’re choosing.

So, at 12yrs old, my elder son gave up… Geography, Art, CDT, Modern Studies, Food Technology, Physics, Computing.  At 14yrs he will give up Biology, German, History, PE but will take up (we hope) Physics.  So at 14 he will be left with Chemistry, Physics, Maths, English, Music. 

Now I know I’m not a teacher and have no teaching background.  And I hear what the school says – that they are expecting this year’s S3s to do better at Standard Grades than the S4s. And that they will have 2 years to do their Highers.  But is this really all that education is about?  Good exam results at the expense of a general education?  I have seen some of the press reports about trials of early Standard Grades producing better results, and about children losing focus in 2nd year.  As one friend, who was mugging up on the Curriculum for Excellence for an interview, commented: “so they lose focus during S2?  We’ve got a great idea – let’s bring the exams forward and really catch them out!” 

It would be very interesting to see the raw data for S3 results against target grades for individuals as I do wonder who really benefits from earlier exams.  I suspect it is the group as a whole, and therefore the school; with a normal distribution, you would expect this to have most impact (in terms of number of children rather than percentages) on the children in the middle rather than those at the top and bottom.    I’m quite sure the analyses must have been done, but I wonder how many of, let’s say, the top 15% of children improve on their target grades? How many do worse?  If they are targeted to get 1s and 2s, how far can they improve on this?  Get 95% rather than 90%?  This won’t show up in the results.  Does this group really underachieve in S4, perhaps getting 2s where they should be getting 1s?  Have the data been analysed within ability groups? I think perhaps I will try to locate some of the raw data although I imagine they’re carefully guarded.  But I’m sure in East lothian you’ve looked at it all carefully – haven’t you?

If, as I suspect, there is very little difference in performance for this top group, their broad general education is being significantly narrowed for the benefit of  those below them.  Not only that, but the exam pressure is being applied at a very early age (although of course, they don’t have to cope with SATs in Scotland).   So perhaps the early Standard Grades should be targetted at the children who would most benefit rather than at the whole year group.   If they lose focus during 2nd year, beef up the 2nd year curriculum and make it more interesting.  If they benefit from 2 years for Highers, give them 2 years and make them stay on at school for an extra year.

As we are in the system, whatever we think about it, we have to work with it and so the pressure is really on to get reasonable grades in the summer exams so that GP1 will be allowed to do the Highers he wants so that he will then have the choice of going to University if he wants.  Let’s not even think about what happens if he doesn’t get the grades.

Oh, that feels better now that it’s out of my system for a while!  I’ll just crawl back into my cage and get on with some work.

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3 thoughts on “Giving up

  1. A few points:-

    I’m not sure that the benefit will necessarily fall with the group you suggest although I know I have made that statement myself in the past. Those below the top end will not always sit Highers and even under this system some would struggle with them.

    I believe some of this drive to improve results has to be from the parents. After all that is the reason many in the area opt for other schools (purely based on published results).

    I would agree with you that one way to improve the problem in second year would be to change the second year curriculum and there are changes coming through a curriculum for excellence – I just hope it allows us to approach things differently but without making it easier.

    The normal two term dash for Higher in 5th year is a problem but it would not be beneficial for the able students to sit Higher in 6th year unless the content was to change. There is a real advantage for those going on to study many subjects at University in studying Advanced Higher in 6th year. While these qualifications are not required for entry, they do tend to prepare the students much better for University level courses.

    I agree with you that the success at all ability levels needs to be considered and I hope this will be done before any final decision is taken on the success of the change.

  2. In the experience we had with a ‘fast track’ class in English, they did far less well in the Standard grade Prelims than the pupils a year older who sat the same exam. The difference in maturity was very obvious, coming out particularly in their essay writing. I don’t imagine this would necessarily apply, however, in other subjects.

    I didn’t realise you’d sung with AC in Cumbrae – he’s one of our oldest friends and we’ve sung together for the past 38 years! (Oh dear. What a long time ….)

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