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Editor's comment

The Government has had to square a few circles in its decisions on the shape of the new qualifications which will support A Curriculum for Excellence (p1). Whether ministers end up satisfying anybody is doubtful. Having decided to replace Standard and Intermediate grades, they had to come up with something suitably different that was more flexible and relevant. So they have devised a new National award at levels 4 and 5 which looks rather similar to, er, Standard and Intermediate grades - the mix of internal and external assessment notwithstanding.

In addition, having decided to stick with the tests that nobody wants - in literacy and numeracy - the Government has had to tread warily. Instead of the hated "national tests" of fond Forsythian memory, we are to have a cuddlier version based on external marking of pupils' portfolios of work across the curriculum. Eventually, when the public (or the Daily Mail) has learnt to trust the tests, more responsibility for marking will be handed over to teachers.

This is no way to assuage employer criticism, which appears to be largely responsible for conjuring up these literacy and numeracy tests. The reason the profession is so antagonistic to them is not because they disagree that these skills are of the utmost importance, but because S3 is far too late to start taking corrective action - or is mere certification the only purpose? Weighing the pig does not fatten it, if Gordon Ramsay will pardon the phrase.

These proposals will have considerable workload and resourcing implications, certainly in the implementation stage and not least for teachers' professional development. And it is all being done in the name of minimising the assessment burdens on pupils and staff which, as we recall, is where it all began. We are now to have more and different forms of assessment - another circle waiting to be squared.

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