In some schools, Senior 1 and Senior 2 is simply a thoroughfare en route to certified courses, and the examinations that come with them.
It’s a chance for teachers to get pupils ‘ready’ for National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers; children spend two years warming up for the real thing.
Not at Watson’s.
Over the last four years under our Head of Senior School Gordon Boyd, we’ve evolved our approach in S1 and S2, so designed to create an engaging learning experience for pupils.
We believe that secondary education should build on the skills developed at primary level whilst steadily broadening and deepening knowledge and understanding.
What we believe is very important is to help our pupils acquire the skills to learn in a way which enables them to make the most of the many subjects on offer in the Senior School.
Around 80% of our pupils at S1 come from our Junior School, with a new group joining them for the start of their secondary school education.
Primary school education in Scotland is largely delivered by teachers who are responsible across multiple subjects. At Watson’s they’re supported by specialist teaching staff in languages, music, art, drama and physical education.
The step-up into S1 heralds the opportunity for pupils to learn with subject matter experts; we have a range of almost 20 different subjects taught across S1 and S2.
But with a limit on available time, and so much to pack in, how do you build a coherent approach to learning which engages young people, and helps children build the skills they need? You don’t do that with just 50 minutes of a subject per fortnight.
Many schools have now switched from delivering learning in individual subjects to more ‘faculty’ based teaching. So rather than chemistry, physics and biology, pupils would study science. Instead of modern studies or history there would be social studies. Only when they get to National 5s is there the option to potentially study a specific subject.
That approach is common. Some also say it benefits pupils in that they will have a smaller group of teachers, who theoretically are better placed to know them, better.
Smaller class sizes of around 20 mean that’s not a particular concern for us at Watson’s as our teachers get to know their pupils quickly. Our approach to tracking and monitoring means that we quickly identify individuals who need a bit of extra help.
By using specialist teachers throughout we provide that essential and magical ingredient, enthusiasm!
Our subject specific teachers are brilliant experts in their field; they love that specialism as they do helping their pupils learn. Our view in reviewing the curriculum for Watson’s at S1 and S2 was that we needed to plan on the basis of our teachers’ passion and enthusiasm.
Saying this, with so many different subjects there is a risk of inconsistency between teaching, learning and assessment in different subjects.
Think back to your own school days. You will very possibly have had different teachers with contrasting approaches. It doesn’t make one teacher better or worse than another, but it can make it challenging for pupils.
That’s why we have built a coordinated approach amongst similar subjects.
For example, in S1 and S2, our pupils study history, geography, modern studies and economics on a rota basis. This means that more intense learning time is available for each subject and, through cooperation with English teachers, pupils continue to develop their literacy skills in a coordinated manner.
This means that at the start of S1, regardless of which social studies subject you are studying, you will be taught a common approach to using evidence and constructing a report or argument.
This skills-based learning, and a standardised approach to assessing work (using a Gold, Silver, and Bronze methodology) means that pupils are learning in a consistent way.
When it comes to the sciences and engineering, our pupils enjoy blocks of learning in specialist sciences and technologies but the approach to teaching, learning, and assessment is consistent. Pupils also participate in a STEM programme, which helps bring together the common skills they are learning in these different subjects.
Ok, let’s talk a bit about literacy and numeracy. English and maths are specialist subjects in themselves, but - through developing skills - they also enable pupils to learn and study across the board.
Literacy and numeracy underpin the fundamentals of everything at school - and in life! If you can read, write and use numbers well you have a chance to progress.
Our teachers of English and maths provide the specialist input here but much of what is taught in these lessons is applied to learning elsewhere. Teaching in English and maths is by broad ability group to ensure that each child progresses at a pace that suits them best.
This ultimately comes back to our objective to give our pupils at Watson’s the freedom to succeed.
Languages are also a key part of the curriculum, and in line with the Scottish Government’s recommendations, we subscribe to the one plus two approach. This means pupils will start to learn one language in Junior School (if they were with us at that point), and then add a second language when they reach S1. In S3 and S4, all pupils have the chance to take at least one language at examination level.
And if your child needs additional support with their learning our colleagues are here to help.
Our Additional Support for Learning department was first set up over 40 years ago by Dr Catriona Collins and then Principal Sir Roger Young. The Cabin (as it was known then) was a safe space where pupils were able to get time and support to fulfil their potential, regardless of any particular learning difficulties.
Perhaps this is a sign that our school has always been thinking forward, putting our pupils first, ensuring that they can aim high and have the freedom to succeed.