Tony McManus, chairperson of the Scottish Association of Teachers of Language and Literature, who teaches at Queensferry High, Edinburgh, said ministers had at last admitted the seriousness of the problem with assessment and the workload on teachers and pupils. "It implies that SATOLL has been correct. So why were teachers ignored when they told of the problems?"
It was "essential", Mr McManus said, that any further review of courses should be by practising teachers. "Even the Educational Institute of Scotland has not been properly representing teachers in this," he claimed.
Mr McManus was puzzled by the implication in the year's postponement and a recent review of the content of English and Communication that the courses and assessment were not yet ready. "We were told three years ago that everything was ready."
Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, stated last week: "We have responded to teachers' requests by allowing teachers the option of a further year's delay to 2001-2002 while consultations continue."
Two years ago schools were allowed to delay implementing Higher Still in eight subjects, including English and Communication. Eighty per cent of the new courses went ahead this session, but only 20 per cent in English.
Mr McManus questioned the effect on candidates in the minority of schools that had switched over to the new Higher Still English. "Several hundred pupils at least have sat exams that are tainted, and they are at risk of having their cerificates undermined," he said.
Mr Galbraith said: "Henry McLeish (Minister for Lifelong Learning) and I have considered carefully whether it would be in the best interests of students to change the 1998 agreement by delaying full implementation of the new Highers for a further year. We have concluded that most of the new Highers should go ahead as agreed.
"However, a working group of practitioners set up by the Scottish Qualifications Authority has just recommended changes to improve the assessment of English and Communication and reduce teachers' workload. We welcome this, since we are determined to meet teachers' valid concerns, but note that SQA needs to consult before making the larger recommended changes, which it aims to implement this autumn."
These changes include simplifying the internal assessment of close reading (or interpretation) and critical listening.
A spokesman for the SQA said the authority "noted" the Executive's decision and reiterated its commitment to listening to teachers and lecturers. "In the light of detailed consideration of feedback, we have announced a number of amendments to internal assessment arrangements. A number of other proposals which would further refine arrangements have been issued for consultation. The outcome of that process will be known in mid-October."
The optional delay also affects Intermediate levels 1 and 2, but schools and colleges already have until 2003-2004 to implement Intermediate and Access courses. There is no change for Advanced Higher English, which does not replace the Certificate of Sixth Year Studies until 2001-2002.
Next week: what the review proposals mean.
Leader, page 16