When Mrs Gaffney herself was at school, A was better than B, but not any more. Daphne finally reached level E in both subjects during her first year at secondary school. Mrs Gaffney hoped that she would continue to reach level E in her Standard grade subjects, and was puzzled to learn that these were divided into F, G and C, and that C was now the best award you could get. Her mother wanted the best for Daphne and, if she could get a C in Standard grade, she would encourage her to achieve C passes in her Highers in fifth year. Sorry, Mrs G, but A is the best performance possible at Higher, and C is a bare pass. Mrs Gaffney was relieved when Daphne finally left school.
At least now she knew the system, and would be able to reassure her sister, Mrs Dooey, whose son Hughie was just starting secondary school. Hughie Dooey duly reaped the benefit of his cousin's experience, but when he reached fifth year, he discovered a strange thing. Level 1 was the very best award that you could achieve at Higher, but Intermediate 1 courses were not as advanced as Intermediate 2. Mrs Dooey was unsure about whether level 1 was a good thing or not. Hughie's sister, Ruby Dooey, really enjoyed business studies during her second year. She was keen to continue the subject into third and fourth years, and was more than a little put out to discover no sign of business studies on the subject choice form. Her teacher explained that office and information studies and accounting and finance were both business studies subjects.
Ruby took OIS and did so well that she wanted to take Higher in fifth year. No chance, Ruby, your choice is between management and information studies and secretarial studies. Now that Higher Still has arrived, Ruby will have even more subject titles to contend with, as business management and administration make their appearance. Ruby finally decided to go to further education college, where business studies is amazingly called business studies.
When the decision was taken to begin the reform of the Scottish curriculum in the middle with Standard grade, the ball was on the proverbial slates. Attention then shifted to the 16-plus action plan, followed seamlessly by the 5-14 development programme. The result is a farrago of assessment and certification, unpalatable to the general public and impenetrable to its users, including employers.
Subject specialists have self-indulgently devised esoteric titles for their courses, although this has not always been in their own best interests. The fragmentation of business studies beyond S4 is a typical example. Where we should have one attractive coherent and relevant subject area, we are presented with a confusing glossary of course titles.
Since the recent Scottish Office survey of attainment at 5-14 demonstrated that there is no national consistency on assessment of levels, they could be removed and replaced by a simple ladder of progression from levels 1-6. Both Standard grade and Higher could also be assessed at levels 1-6. Then, if we referred to level 3, people would have some idea what we were talking about.
It would help if subjects were offered under titles which are comprehensible to people beyond the school. This might enlighten the wee chappie who is apocryphally reported to have written in his school diary:
"I'm going to do Oh, Aye, Yes next year."
Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh