A boycott is the only answer

Despite the fudge and nudge, the EISleadership has failed to secure any meaningful concessions on unit assessment, says Graham Dane

HE recent annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland defeated the union's leadership twice on the subject of Higher Still. The EIS decided last September to negotiate with ministers before initiating a boycott of internal assessment. I supported that strategy at the time, but these negotiations have lasted all year and have not achieved much.

There are several reasons for this lack of success, but two of them are interlinked. The EIS has not been taken seriously. It is insulting to be told that the responses to the recent consultation were evenly balanced, when that evaluates the EIS, with its 50,000 members, as simply one response among many.

The other reason is that the union has not pursued its objective as vigorously as it could. Some of the negotiators simply do not believe in shifting the balance away from internal and towards external assessment. Others do not think that a boycott of internal assessment is desirable and some of these do not think it is deliverable.

As a way of breaking this logjam, more than half the members of the executive council have requisitioned a special meeting. There will be a motion calling for a ballot on boycotting unit assessment of candidates taking Higher Still courses at Intermediate level and above. That is a much more focused demand, and has been carefully formulated to answer some of the criticisms of a boycott.

First, Access levels are excluded, as they are entirely internally assessed. Second, candidates taking single units, either in FE colleges, or as S5 Christmas leavers, or for any other reason, can still be assessed at unit level.

Candidates taking whole courses will be credited (if successful) on their certificates as passing the external examination. The assessment of these candidates' units is redundant, and these assessments will be boycotted.

There is not a problem with the length and reliability of the external examinations, because many Higher Still exams (aka National Qualifications) are already longer than their equivalents at Standard grade. In addition, school examinations are already quite long enough for the level concerned. It is disproportionate that public examination at school level sometimes takes up more time than at degree level.

Education administrators and others concerned about public expenditure should also consider the massive expense of these examinations. Intermediate costs about 20 per cent more than equivalent Standard grades.

This will continue to rise as the Government withdraws the subsidies that rescued the system last year. It is now usual for teachers to have much less money to spend on books and teaching materials for the education of a class than is being charged to assess that class. Truly, the assessment tail is wagging the educational dog.

The extra expense of Higher Still courses is due to the cost of unit assessment, a redundant add-on. EIS members will be doing everyone a favour by boycotting these assessments and ending their compulsory status.

Candidates will have less stress and unnecessary work, teachers will have more time to spend on educating students, education authorities and colleges will save money. Only the diehard ideologues will regret the passing of a "good idea" that became a nightmare in implementation.

They should learn a lesson from the poll tax saga. When even its friends abandon it, give it up.

Graham Dane is a member of the EIS executive council, writing here in a personal capacity.

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