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Curtain set to fall on S grade

Standard grade's loosening foothold is looking even more insecure following publication of the major curriculum and assessment review south of the border.

The Tomlinson report advocates that GCSEs - the English equivalent - should be internally assessed by teachers and should form only part of a new diploma to cover the 14-19 age range.

Scottish Executive ministers have already set their sights on removing the significance of a leaving exam at the end of S4 and will be heartened by the conclusions in England. So far, they have been restrained in consigning Standard grade to history and opted instead for a gradualist approach to win over the education profession.

In a radical 200-page report, reminiscent of the inquiry by Professor John Howie in the early 1990s in Scotland, Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector in England, calls for a diploma qualification at four levels - entry, foundation, intermediate and advanced - that would bring together aca-demic and vocational qualifications.

Sweden and New Zealand are said to offer similar models.

Mr Tomlinson wants to cut the number of external exams taken by students in their final three years in secondary, a sentiment already shared in Scotland.

Earlier this year, Peter Peacock, Education Minister, in a briefing with The TES Scotland, described the position of Standard grade as "anomalous", compared with the single upper secondary qualification in New Zealand covering the last three years of secondary.

Mr Peacock would not be drawn beyond that, but he was clearly impressed by the New Zealand decision to sweep away "a very cluttered qualifications landscape" and replace it with the National Certificate of Educational Achievement.

But he felt Scotland's equivalent five-tier system of National Qualifications had the edge, especially Access courses for young people with learning difficulties, something that is missing in the southern hemisphere.

Ministers are already committed to "address the relationship between Standard grade and the new National Qualifications" by next year. In the following two years to 2007, the Executive is pledged to "a reduction of the amount of time spent on external exams, including the option of sitting exams only when leaving school instead of sitting national exams every year from S4".

Mr Peacock has to date left schools and local authorities to their own devices in deciding whether pupils in third and fourth year should be offered Standard grade or Intermediate courses. The Executive's official position, set out in its response to the na-tional education debate, is that schools should be free to innovate, ahead of a review of Standard grade.

Ministers may use the development in England to speed up the pace of reform. They have already opened up far more vocational routes for many thousands of pupils in S3 and beyond while Higher Still courses are creeping further down the age range as teachers become convinced that they have more to offer than Standard grades.

The Executive's strategy is to reduce the time spent on tests and exams and to set local targets.

East Renfrewshire has taken the lead as an authority in moving away from Standard grade to the Higher Still menu.

Tomlinson report 6-7; Leader 22

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