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Chalkface in crisis;Opinion

It is no coincidence that the most passionate debates at the Educational Institute of Scotland's conference were about the curriculum. If delegates were to carry out their direst threats, Higher Still would yet again be postponed, and the 5-14 curriculum at least remodelled.

The conference votes will not yet cause loss of sleep at the Scottish Office, the Scottish Qualifications Authority or the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum. Few teachers want to ditch Higher Still completely, because they know that the current post-16 structure is inadequate and each year that it remains in place is another year's disservice to pupils. But they complain about being still uninformed, unsure of new demands on assessment and multi-level teaching and sceptical about the promise that this summer's production of resources and materials will answer their doubts.

Likewise primary teachers (and perhaps even teachers of S1 and S2 classes) are not against the principle of a nationally accepted curriculum. It is the excessive detail and the demands on primary teachers to be specialists as well as generalists that cause resentment, channelled at least for now into ridicule of environmental studies.

The EIS has signalled a strong demand for reassurances. The leadership argued that its options should not be foreclosed, but its caution does not mean a split along traditional left-right lines. True, the rump of left-wingers supported calls for action but alarm about curricular pressures spreads more widely than, say, the annual left-wing calls for salary awards to be flat-rated. If concern about the millennium review is put to one side, the teaching profession sees more immediate opportunity for addressing grievances about classroom conditions than about pecking order in the professional pay stakes.

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