DESPITE the Education Minister's discovery that young people's views on the real issues in schools are not those of adults, or of headlines, one preoccupation remained stubbornly centre-stage at a "great debate" conference in Edinburgh last week - assessment.
Coming before next week's annual meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland, which will hear calls for implementing the boycott of Higher Still internal assessment, it was clear that concerns go beyond union activists.
Geoff McCormick, chair of Oban High school board, told a seminar organised by the EIS that assessment had to be "revisited" and its place in the curriculum rethought.
Mr McCormick said: "The proportion of time and energy put into assessment must be related to the educational experience of the child. We have to have education with a bit of assessment rather than what we seem to have just now - growing assessment with diminishing education."
Bill Dick, head of geography and modern studies at St Modan's High in Stirling and a principal assessor for the Scottish Qualifications Authority, told the seminar that assessment had become an obstacle to learning. "The whole concept of assessment has lost its meaning. Part of (the problem) is related to target-setting. This is imposed on schools to raise achievement to levels which possibly cannot be achieved.
"As a result, pupils are being constantly assessed so that they will perform well in exams, especially national exams. Teachers are then unable to deliver the full content of their courses in as interesting and varied a way as they would like."
May Ferries, assistant head of Victoria primary in Glasgow and a member of the EIS executive council, said the notion that schools can continue to improve was "utter myth and a real emperor's new clothes". She said: "It is challenging enough to reach your targets, but the schools who do reach the targets then have their targets raised and that just becomes impossible."
George MacBride, principal teacher of learning support at Govan High in Glasgow and convener of the EIS education committee, drew warm applause from an audience of parents and teachers at one of the plenary sessions when he said that "much of assessment is for the benefit of record-keeping and not for the benefit of the pupils, parents or teachers".
David Fraser, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, admitted frankly that one of the reasons for assessment was so that politicians can be held to account by the media. "The question is - how to make assessment relevant?"