Moving towards the comprehensive system

There was also a conceptual shift (assisted by the smaller numbers of pupils involved), allying junior secondary provision with senior in new schools such as Ross High in Tranent (from 1954), or the integration of both types of provision into existing schools such as Preston Lodge and Musselburgh grammar school. The replacement of ‘Lowers’ with the Scottish Certificate of Education ‘O’ grade in 1962, encouraged more pupils to achieve qualifications (Philip, HL 1995 pp10, 11); some 66% of school leavers were gaining certification by 1974, compared with 27% in 1964 (Devine, TM 1999 p406).

It seems that in some schools at least, ‘streaming’ (based on overall performance, irrespective of subject) kept pupils of differing abilities quite segregated; Musselburgh grammar was the only secondary school in the town, and pupils were streamed. Preston Lodge streamed pupils to 1974 (Preston Lodge, 1924-1999, p15). At Knox Academy, Haddington, only A-stream pupils could take Latin, and A-stream pupils could not take woodwork; neither of the C or D stream pupils took French. Similarly at Dunbar, each year had a two-language class, a one-language class, two non-language classes and a less-able D class (Glass, L 1997 p137). Movement between the streams was very limited.

Changes in provision moved through the revolution in primary education with the 1965 Primary Memorandum – with its belief in child-centred education – and culminated in the secondary sector with the introduction of a fully comprehensive system of education from 1966. Although progress was piecemeal, the comprehensive system was taken on board more speedily than in some other counties, because East Lothian’s political inclination tended towards the Labour Party. Testing no longer determined school placement and secondary schools offered a more flexible approach to pupils. It seems that once the comprehensive system was introduced, the ‘common course’ – when all the pupils were taught together – was selectively used after the pupil’s first two years. Knox Academy had introduced the common course and the mixed ability classes by 1969, though S1 pupils were only taught in mixed ability classes for their first term. At Preston Lodge, streaming continued to 1974 (Preston Lodge 1924-1999 p15, C Harvie). Then, from S3 on, ‘setting’ – where pupils were taught by their ability in each subject – appears to have been used. By the 1990s, setting became acceptable in S2, and later in S1.

Information sheets produced in the 1980s by Lothian Regional Council (available at the Local History Centre) stated:

All secondary schools in Lothian offer a wide range of courses leading to the Scottish Certificate of Education Examination Board’s Ordinary Grade examinations at the end of the fourth year (S4).

In addition, many schools offer for the slower learner the Northern Regional Examination Board’s Certificate of Secondary Education (Mode 3) or a combination of both SCE and CSE courses.

The general aim is to maintain a well-balanced curriculum for all pupils, whether studying for an external examination or not.

More mundane considerations such as staff (Glass, L 1997 p141) and room availability, and pupil numbers, also dictated whether the pupils were taught in a mixed ability group or in different sets, by ability. The methods adopted appear to have varied between schools. In 1972, when the leaving age was raised to 16, schools were faced with a large increase in pupil numbers, as well as reluctant pupils who felt they should not be at school at all – and with no increase in staff numbers. New attitudes to discipline became evident at about the same time, and the tawse (belt) had begun to disappear from most classrooms by the mid 1970s. Its use was ended in state (and state-funded private) schools in 1987 (Hendrie, WF 1997, p51).

From 1991, schools were implementing the 5-14 curriculum; learning became more structured, but was combined with a broader concept of education. Links between primary and secondary schools were encouraged, and efforts made to ensure pupils experienced an education built on continuity, coherence and progression. The curriculum was not however, inflexible, and could respond to changing needs. Topics were reviewed as required, for example, environmental studies in 1998, and modern languages by 1999.