Letters: Start learning from specialist schools

Your article on the report, Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (29 March), produced some truly interesting and disappointing reading.

As someone who has worked for 39 years in the specialist school sector, with boys from troubled and disadvantaged backgrounds, to read that more than half of S2 pupils are not doing well in maths is upsetting.

This survey has also reinforced what we know too well to be true; that a deprived background can have severe consequences on the education and performance of Scotland’s children.

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In our ongoing work with young disadvantaged males, CrossReach has seen at the grass-roots level the effect and the consequences of sub-level numeracy skills in both the present and future development of these young people.

With this in mind CrossReach is delighted to be able to take advantage of the flexibility we have found within the Curriculum for Excellence, and its application as a tool for tailoring education to the individual while providing the life skills necessary to achieve personal and career development.

That is why CrossReach is able to report that all of our pupils achieve significantly more with regards to SQA national qualifications in numeracy and literacy by 15 to 16 years old than they would if they were in mainstream schooling, and subsequently have these life skills to take forward for their futures.

Taking into account the troubled, and sometimes harrowing backgrounds these young men have come from yet manage, with our support, to better themselves; shouldn’t the state education sector be looking to the specialist sector for advice on how to address the issues outlined in the report?

Chris McNaught

Director of children and young people’s services


Milton Road East


Your leader comment (29 March) states: “What we do know from the new tests, is standards slip between primary 4 and primary 7.”

The results of the first Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN), published by the Scottish Government on 28 March, 2012, clearly show that 99 per cent of P4 and 98 per cent of P7 pupils were working within the expected level; 76 per cent of P4 and 72 per cent of P7 pupils are performing well or very well at their expected level.

The comparison between the strong performance of both P4 and P7 pupils in numeracy is stark from this evidence.

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In addition, I note the article in the same edition, from Donald Macdonald, head teacher of James Gillespie’s High School.

In his article Mr Macdonald is broadly supportive of Curriculum for Excellence and the evidence presented in the SSLN. He states that: “In terms of teaching numeracy, I think Curriculum for Excellence is making a difference, without doubt. I am confident it will yield results.”

It is very disappointing that your leader article does not pick up on these positive comments or the evidence presented in the survey.

Michael Russell

Cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning

Scottish Government



The Curriculum for Excellence’s (CfE) “capacities” as defined in the 30 March article are remarkedly non-specific.

Exactly what our school leavers are required to learn and then demonstrate in independent assessments learned needs clear detail.

“Becoming successful learners” has to refer to individual subjects as now.

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How do our further and higher education institutions and employers equate recognised standard, credit, intermediate and higher grade awards with the CfE; the basic learned “vocabularies” essential to underpin life after school must be evident, not just broad generalised coverage.

Assuming that the CfE meets all the first capacity’s objectives, the remaining three others – becoming confident individuals, responsible citizens, effective contributors – (again exact meanings are hard to pin down without background details) omit a key element common to all three: direct parental involvement implicit in bringing up children with active influence at all stages of development.

It seems essential that parent-teacher interactions be expanded to match the CfE’s concepts more effectively, aimed at less reliance on teachers alone, but on enhanced parent-teacher co-operation better to achieve the “capacities” specified.

It all begins with reading with one’s offspring in infancy.

Joe Darby


Dingwall, Ross-shire