Helen Liddell in the Press

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Liddell's critics attack her bright pupils idea

Sixth level for more able brings an accusation of arrogance, reports CHRIS STARRS

NEW teaching guidelines aimed at providing greater challenges for Scotland's most able children in the first two years of secondary school were announced yesterday.

Scottish Education Minister Helen Liddell said the measures would seek to give pupils not sufficiently stretched in first and second year a "progressive and worthwhile experience" of the curriculum in S1 and S2.

However, the move immediately ran into criticism from opposition parties and a parents' group.

The curriculum for children aged between five and 14 is structured on five levels, from A to E. Yesterday's announcement introduces a sixth level - F - for more able children before they start work on Standard grades.

The idea of a sixth level in the five-to-14 curriculum was first put forward by the former Conservative government. However, critics then said the plan for a "fast track" for the most able would undermine the ethos of comprehensive education, and the scheme failed to materialise.

The new move comes days after the Government announced a scheme to offer 100,000 of the brightest children from inner city schools in England extra lessons in their strongest subjects through the fast-expanding network of specialist and beacon schools, a move criticised by teachers' leaders as a "backdoor re-introduction of grammar schools".

Mrs Liddell said yesterday: "I have repeatedly expressed my concerns about the lack of progress that pupils make in S1 and S2. Vigorous and sustained action is required and this guidance is part of our programme to tackle this weakness."

She added that the guidelines would contribute to one of the key priorities set out in the education White Paper, Targeting Excellence: Modernising Scotland's Schools, published in January.

"By using these guidelines, schools will be able to give their pupils a rich, varied and worthwhile experience and contribute to the action education authorities are already taking to remedy the slow progress made by some pupils in S1/S2."

Nicol Stephen, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: "This takes the arrogance of New Labour to new limits. To suggest that Helen Liddell issuing ministerial guidelines will raise standards in schools, while she has cut over 200m from Scottish school spending in the last two years, is disgracefully misleading.

"Any teacher will tell you that the best way Helen Liddell can raise standards in Scotland's schools is by investing more in education and not by further piecemeal bureaucratic guidelines from politicians."

Nicola Sturgeon, education spokeswoman for the SNP, said the scheme could be the "slippery slope to selection" in secondary schools.

She added: "It sounds to me to be very much like the proposals the Tories made when they were in office and very much like the English proposals earlier this week."

Mrs Judith Gillespie, development manager with the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said the new level would continue to concentrate on English and maths at a time when children were beginning new subjects.

"If there is slack, we would like to see it used as a transition to standard grade rather than an extra level of the five to 14 programme. There is no particular benefit in pushing them on to level F, and perhaps the time could be devoted to other subjects like modern languages." - March 24