I SUSPECT that your Ne’erday front page headline may have given John Swinney, the Scottish Education Secretary, a morning headache even if he had avoided one thus far (“Warning of classroom rebellion as pupils snub curriculum”, The Herald, January 1).

I found that the Holyrood report Behaviour in Scottish Schools, based on research involving teachers by Ipsos Mori, had perhaps only some heartening references to digital technology in schools, to separate it from what has become familiar jargon in educational reports for several decades. For example, “a common theme was that, over and above teaching and learning, it was important to understand individual pupils”. I am certain that even Wackford Squeers suspected that truism.

On the issue of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) National 4, although it was designed to broadly replace General level at Standard Grade it obviously suffers in practice from the bad press that Foundation level at Standard Grade had to endure. The problem with the translation of assessment policy into the less academically talented pupils’ perceptions is that such young people do not so much feel that they have failed within the system, but rather they have been rejected by the system.

I believe a major contributor may be that our school curriculum in Scotland is regularly re-created on a top-down model, driven in reverse by the content of Higher exams and hence hugely influenced by our universities. I consider that in a rapidly adapting technological world, Scottish education remains enslaved by its own conventions.

I suggest that a number of pupils are becoming disaffected by the courses on offer under CfE because many aspects seldom appear to them to represent anything appropriate to their individual aspirations, interests and experiences of the world. This is compounded with the known fact that the critical third year at secondary school is a time high on the Richter scale of hormonal change in our young people and thus scholarly learning is, for many, an added distraction to the angst of growing up.

Doubtless 2018 will plod along with fine words about our schools and characterised by avoidance strategies to actually address the very real challenges our so-called snowflake generation present.

Bill Brown.

46 Breadie Drive, Milngavie.

ONCE again the major short- comings of the National 4 award has been highlighted in the Ipsos Mori Scotland poll of secondary teachers. In 2016 you published two of my letters highlighting the abysmal failure of National 4 qualifications with a plea for the SQA to introduce a National 4 exam and the scrapping of the heavy burden of national 4 and 5 unit assessment.

The recent survey of teachers confirms the criticisms made in my letters. The survey highlights the disengagement of N4 students and the rise in classroom disruption. N4 students are not stupid, they realise that they are being denied parity of esteem and the opportunity to participate “in exams for all” . Standard Grades had their faults but they provided an opportunity for the vast majority of students to share a collective exam experience. I argued that denying a group of pupils the opportunity to sit external exams would recreate the “apartheid education system” that only ended with the introduction of standard grades in the 1980s.

As a retired supply teacher, I witness the impact of the N4 structure on both teachers and students, especially in the January-May run-up to the SQA exams. Subjects such as English and maths can run discrete N4 classes and these are the most difficult classes to motivate and to maintain discipline. Meanwhile in subjects such as History and Modern Studies, most classes are made up of both N4 and N5 students and this can make it difficult to maintain a positive learning environment. Larry Flannigan, EIS General Secretary, may argue that many N4 students “celebrate" this award, and the Scottish Government spokesperson may argue that classroom teachers supported the decision not to have an exam at National 4. Both these viewpoints would only be supported by those who live in the world of Donald Trump.

We have now reached 2018 and nothing has been done to rectify the failures of the National 4 experiment. Shame on the decision-makers, whose solution is to set up another committee.

Frank Cooney,

29 St Annes Wynd, Erskine

IF, as you report, many Scottish pupils are snubbing the National 4 qualifications, then at least our education system is, albeit unintentionally, teaching them to think for themselves. Nor, given that there is no external examination at the end of National 4, is that an unreasonable judgment to make.

Many of us smelt a rat as soon as we heard that the new curriculum was to be called the Curriculum for Excellence. It is exactly the sort of name that politicians’ spin doctors would think up for a curriculum heavy with fashionable social theories and weak on common sense.

More fundamentally I doubt that there should be a monopoly national curriculum at all. Some private schools in Scotland prepare their pupils for English GCSE s and A-levels, while others offer the International Baccalaureate (IB). Fettes College manages to offer its sixth formers the choice of A-levels or the IB. These schools do this, while ticking all the boxes of the Scottish curriculum.

Why not allow Scottish state schools to choose their curriculum and exams? If they don’t have confidence in the Curriculum for Excellence, they could opt for GCSEs and A-levels, the IB or any other recognised curriculum? Indeed, why not let schools and syndicates of schools write their own curricula?

No doubt the response will be to complain of shortage of funding. Anyone who has had many dealings with private schools will have noticed that these institutions update their facilities incrementally, refurbishing or constructing one building at a time. On the other hand, in the public sector it is common to build new schools from scratch, entirely abandoning or destroying the old buildings.

Universities are well used to comparing qualifications from different countries and exam systems, so that should be no argument against this proposal.

In short, it is time to end the culture of central planning and social engineering in education; it has no more chance of working in schools than it did in economics.

Otto Inglis,

6 Inveralmond Grove, Edinburgh.