FLaT

Keith Grammar School S4-S6 Senior Curriculum Broadening Project - Executive Summary

Introduction

This is the final report on the evaluation of the Keith Grammar School S4-S6 Senior Curriculum Broadening Project (2004-07) prepared by the evaluation team in the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh who were commissioned by the Scottish Government (formerly Scottish Executive) Education Department.

The Project Aims

The Keith Grammar School S4-S6 Senior Curriculum Broadening Project (Phase 2, 2003-06) represents the final stage of curriculum reorganisation from S1-S6.   It follows on from Phase 1 in which pupils experienced a revised 5-14 curriculum across 16 subject departments in S1, resulting in the provision of a new first year course and commencing Standard Grade courses in S2. (See Keith Grammar Curriculum Flexibility Project - Phase 1 Evaluation Report). The key aims of the phase 2 project were to provide:

  • courses in a greater variety of subjects for a single cohort of S4-S6 pupils;

  • vocationally oriented courses in S4 for less able pupils who were in danger of becoming disaffected with the current curriculum;

  • a more solid grounding in Intermediate 2 courses in S4 before proceeding to Higher in S5, for those pupils who require it.

The Remit and Specific Aims of the Evaluation Project

The 4 aims of the evaluation project were to evaluate:

  • the impact on the quality of and approaches to learning and teaching for staff and learners involved in the project through the implementation of the Standard Grade courses in S2/S3; and any impact on attainment, progression, preparedness for the future, including guidance and post Standard Grade subject choices;

  • aspects of the planning stages of the new courses for pupils in S4-S6;

  • and monitor the processes of development of new courses for pupils in S4-S6;

  • the implementation of the new senior curriculum and its initial impact on the school, pupils, partner providers and parents; and in more quantitative terms, any impact on attainment, progression and preparedness for post-schooling engagement with education and training.

Research Methods

 
To achieve the evaluation aims qualitative and quantitative data were collected from the original S1 pupil cohort (including a sub-sample of twenty four focus group pupils), their teachers, parents and other stakeholders at key points in each year (2004-07) and from other sources:

  • School senior management team - 1:1 interviews;

  • Teachers - questionnaire and selected 1:1 interviews; 

  • Pupils – questionnaire, class observations and interviews with focus pupils originally selected in S1;

  • Parents - questionnaire and selected 1:1 interviews of parents of focus pupils;

  • Partner providers, e.g. FE college staff - 1:1 interviews;

  • Attendance at meetings relevant to the development of vocational courses;

  • Scrutiny of school SQA attainment and other documentation, e.g. leaver destinations.

Key Findings

The Introduction of Standard Grade in S2/S3

 

Staff

After three years of implementation staff still held mixed opinions.  A positive feature was the level of pupil motivation, maintaining the work ethic and enthusiasm from S1, and taking responsibility for their own learning.  Concerns focused on the level of pupils’ maturity, both in terms of choosing subjects for Standard Grade in S1, and undertaking some topics in the Standard Grade curriculum; and less able pupils’ ability to cope with the curriculum.

Overall, the benefits to pupils were seen by staff to outweigh the concerns.

Running the Standard Grade course a year early in S2/S3 had successfully enabled the school to run the vocational courses for the benefit of pupils in S4. 

Pupils

Overall, the pupils indicated generally positive responses.  It allowed more time and opportunity for senior school choices and being able to drop subjects and concentrate on those liked or needed.  However, around one third of the cohort thought the changes had not been wholly beneficial.  Interview data indicated that some pupils felt that they had not had enough time studying subjects in S1 to gain a sufficient insight into the subject before choosing it for Standard Grade.

Parents

The parents were divided in their opinion as to whether the change had been beneficial for their child.  They reiterated the benefits and disadvantages expressed by both staff and pupils.  The main benefit identified was that there would be more time for the Higher courses. 

 

Planning and Developing The New S4-S6 Senior School Curriculum

  • The creation of a larger single S4/5/6 cohort in the senior school allowed the school to provide a greater variety of subjects than was possible previously; to give opportunities in Intermediate 2 courses in S4 before proceeding to Higher in S5; and to offer vocational courses in S4 to less able pupils.  Depending on the courses taken, pupils followed an academic route or a vocational route.

  • Most of the potential vocational courses the school aspired to proved impossible to deliver for a variety of reasons, many of which were beyond the control of the school.  Barriers to development included: availability of funding – e.g. for staffing (cross sector) for equipment and for staff and pupil travel; availability of appropriate premises; availability of appropriately trained and qualified staff for both delivery and assessment, e.g. from the workplaces, the school, FE or awarding body; the availability of course material relevant to certification awards; provision of the types of security and insurance needed for under-16 year olds in particular settings, e.g. through Health and Safety compliances.

  • Following extensive consultations with potential partners in a range of possible developments, the vocational courses that the school ultimately proved able to offer to pupils for the 2005-2006 school year were hairdressing, care, engineering and landbased skills.  A construction course was also offered in year 2.  Work placements were secured for all pupils and the in-school element was timetabled separately from the rest of the year group. 

The Implementation of The S4-S6 Senior Curriculum: The Academic Courses

A variety of course options were offered in S4, e.g. Intermediate 1 and 2, as well as the two year Higher, depending on the subject. 

Staff

  • Benefits for pupils of the two year course (S4/S5) were that it enabled them to take more Highers (up to six) over a two year period; and it gave more time for: preparation for Higher examinations and removed the ‘nine month’ dash; development of the necessary skills; practical work and revision at the end of the course; and an opportunity to re-sit exams in S5 if necessary.  It caused less stress and pressure; introduced more extra curricular responsibilities to pupils earlier in the school; and resulted in fewer pupil behavioural problems being reported in S4.

  • Benefits for staff themselves were: more time for extra depth of topics to extend pupil knowledge and establish stronger relationships with pupils.

  • Disadvantages/concerns for staff were: managing the demands of multi-level teaching which included Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, two year Higher and one year Higher courses (bi-level and tri-level classes), particularly in year 1, and the increased workload due to preparation of additional differentiated materials and assessments. 

Despite the constraints caused by the variety of courses and the small size of the school, the number of bi-level and tri-level classes timetabled in S4-S6 significantly reduced in the second year of implementation.  This required a balancing judgement between the existence of multi-level classes and pupil choice.  At the end of year 2:

  • staff reiterated the benefits of a two year course, indicating that more departments thought pupils undertaking an Intermediate 2 in S4 was worthwhile preparation for undertaking Higher in S5;

  • multi-level classes were still perceived as a problem despite teaching and learning strategies having been addressed through a variety of staff development initiatives;

  • concerns for pupils focused on: insufficient teacher time given to pupils in the multi-level classes operating in some subjects, which impacted particularly on the less able pupils spending more time on self-supported study; the lack of motivation, pace and challenge in S4.  However, the SMT had taken steps to address these issues by introducing NABs in S4, such that motivation was not an issue in year 3;

  • a minority suggested the previous lack of challenge in S2 had now moved to S4, and a preferred option to address this would have been to improve the S2 courses;

  • the achievements of the first cohort to take Standard Grade one year early in S3, gave the school its equal best results it had ever achieved in S4.  With respect to the other 21 comparator schools, KGS was 1st out of 21, 1st out of 21 and 9th out of 21, for Standard Grade awards at level 3, level 4 and level 5 respectively;

  • pupil attainment at Higher of the first cohort resulted in the school achieving its best results for 3 or more Highers at level 6, and 5 or more at level 6, putting it above the national average at these levels for only the second time.
     

Pupils

  • The majority thought it was ‘a good idea to have two years to complete Highers.

  • Taking Intermediate 2 in some subjects in S4 enabled pupils to re-sit the examination in S5 if they were unsuccessful.

  • Positive features were that it allowed more time and opportunity for senior school choices, and being able to drop subjects and concentrate on those liked or needed.

  • Disadvantages/concerns for pupils centred around the pace of work considered to be too slow in S4, and which then required a faster pace in S5.

Parents

  • Around a half indicated that having two years before Higher examinations was beneficial for their child.  The main benefit was the extended time which allowed the development of pupil confidence, maturity, greater coverage of course work, a less pressured experience than a one year Higher and opportunity to consolidate work through Intermediate courses.

  • Disadvantages identified included: concerns about the perceived ‘slow’ pace of S4 and resulting lack of challenge and motivation; mixed (Higher and Intermediate) classes; timetabling difficulties and their child being unable to take some subjects of their choice.

  • Their final comments revealed divided opinions.  Parents who supported the principle of the new senior curriculum recognised the limitations for a school with a small roll implementing such an initiative.  They acknowledged the changes the school had put into place to address the difficulties for future cohorts.  Others reserved judgement until the exam results would be known.

  • In terms of preparing for the future, 30% thought the senior school (S4-S6) curriculum had widened the future opportunities for their child, although 56% disagreed, and 35% thought the range of courses helped their child plan for the future. 

 

The Implementation of the S4-S6 Senior Curriculum: The Vocational Courses

In year 1, the vocational curriculum consisted of: 2 days per week taught vocational element learning practical skills; 2 days per week ‘in school’ studying mathematics, English, PSE, RME, PE, ICT and enterprise; and 1 day on a work placement.

The Staff

  • Staff perceived the benefits of the taught vocational courses for pupils to be: increased levels of confidence, self-esteem, motivation, communication skills and improved relationships.

  • Perceived difficulties for pupils were: having to adjust to the different teaching and learning approaches between school and FE.

  • From year 2, 2007-08 onwards vocational pupils were integrated with academic pupils for the in-school element of the course.

  • Factors which contributed to the successful running of the vocational courses were: establishing good partnerships with external providers (FE college); having a dedicated member of staff (a PT) with responsibility for the vocational pupils; good lines of communication between the PT and FE college staff, between the PT and staff in school, e.g. guidance and those delivering in-school courses, and between the PT, employers and parents; and the introduction of school procedures including e.g. choice of courses, monitoring of pupils’ achievements, and attendance at the work placement.

The Partner Providers (FE college)

  • Key issues identified by all the FE staff which contributed to helping pupils to engage with the taught vocational element were: a concentrated period of time to work, i.e. two whole days set aside for the course; the varied nature of the courses i.e. a mixture of theoretical and practical work; the application of theoretical work to a practical context; an informal teaching and learning environment; a simulated working environment; pupils treated as adults by staff; the staff approach to discipline. 

  • Perceived challenges for the pupils on the taught vocational element included the theoretical aspects, the written work and numeracy.

  • Factors which contributed towards successful working with schools were: a partnership agreement which included the fine detail of delivery, secure funding arrangements and a dedicated person in each sector to ensure effective communication.

  • Challenges for FE working with schools were: securing adequate government funding; providing outreach facilities for schools in rural locations; running courses shared by a number of schools with different timetables across different local authorities; communication and sharing of information about pupils.

Pupils

  • Approximately a third of the S3 cohort group chose the vocational route for their senior school years, with numbers spread fairly evenly across the four choices. The landbased and engineering courses were made up entirely of boys, and the care and hairdressing entirely of girls.

  • These pupils indicated strongly positive responses (100%) to the opportunity to do vocational courses, 83% thought that the new senior school courses were a good idea, but they also felt they would have liked a wider choice of courses.

  • The two best things about the vocational course were: the practical taught vocational element and the work placement.

  • The two most difficult things about the vocational course were: the demands of writing and theory work.

Parents

  • The majority of parents thought the vocational course provided was more suited to their child’s interests and matched to their talents; gave a valuable workplace experience and the opportunity to gain a qualification; and were happy with the range of vocational courses offered in S4.

  • Just over half thought their child was sufficiently mature enough to tackle the vocational course, the pace of work was ‘about right’ and it widened their future opportunities.

  • The main benefits that parents perceived their child had gained from the course overall were: a sense of achievement; increased confidence, motivation and maturity; the ability to get on with others and progression to further study or employment. 

  • Parents thought the vocational course helped inform their child’s decisions to routes post-schooling, either to further training, e.g. a vocational course at an FE college, or in securing employment.

Summary: Issues Arising, Questions Emerging And Reflections On The Future

  • The school and staff undertook an ambitious and radical reorganisation of the timing and structures of the curriculum.  Whilst other schools had embarked on similar, but more limited initiatives, Keith Grammar was the first school in Scotland where the whole year group undertook Standard Grade courses in all subjects one year early (i.e. in S2 and S3), and engaged with the consequent radical changes required in the senior school from S4-S6. 

The Implementation of Standard Grade in S2/S3

  • The two main issues associated with the S1/2 changes were as follows: 
    The need to offer content and experiences in S1/S2 that are engaging and enhancing with respect to the educational and personal development of pupils at that stage.

The perception that additional time for learning at the later stages of the school years could be advantageous for many pupils.

The Changes to the Senior School (S4-S6) Curriculum

The change of Standard Grade to S2/S3 resulted in reorganisation of the senior school for pupils from age 15, and pupils were able to choose either a vocational or an academic route.  The process of change could be viewed as a top down model driven by the SMT, which despite their instance that all staff had been consulted, left several staff confused at various points over the course of reorganisation and change.

Academic Courses

  • The condensation of the S1/S2 course to a one year S1 course to address the issue of lack of motivation in S2 and to satisfy the needs of all the pupils, simply re-located the differentiation problem to a later stage in S4. 

  • The small size of the school curtailed the range of subject choices for the academic and interest courses.

  • The size constraint also resulted in multi-level classes (Intermediate 2, one year and two year Higher) operating in year 1, although the numbers of these classes reduced in subsequent years.

  • The pupils were offered opportunities in the senior curriculum for independent learning, but to be effective these needed to be thoughtfully planned and managed by teachers.

Vocational Courses

  • A limited number of vocational courses were successfully introduced once initial teething problems for the in-school element were resolved after year 1.

  • Greater communication and closer working relationships between individual school teachers and the FE tutors could have improved the range of pedagogies offered to pupils in school.

  • The small school size limited the number of pupils available to undertake the courses, in addition to the school’s own imposed restrictions on numbers (one third of the year group).  The opportunity for the school and FE to expand the range of courses on offer was constrained by the college’s need for viable numbers to run cost effective courses.

  • The innovative range of possible FE courses leading to enhanced employment opportunities as envisaged by FE managers, had yet to be engaged with by the school.

  • Despite encountering a wide range of difficulties, the school produced a number of effective academic and vocational courses, and attainment at Standard Grade and Higher increased following introduction of the new senior curriculum.

  • As an alternative to the introduction of earlier certification, schools could consider enrichment of the S1-S3 curriculum experience.

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