Opinion among ABE workers is divided on how the post-16 programme will affect them and they share teacher doubts about assessment. But Liz Campbell, education liaison officer in East Renfrewshire, argued that it would provide the hard edge often missing in informal education.
"It should give some currency to the ABE essential skills, especially the core skills such as communication, numeracy and problem-solving. In the past, people have perceived that a lot of the work that goes on in ABE and community education does not have currency," Mrs Campbell said.
Mrs Campbell, co-organiser of the conference in Edinburgh, which was run by the Scottish Community Education Council, accepted some fellow workers saw Higher Still as a takeover. However, she stressed: "It is only one route. There are alternative pathways."
Traditional routes such as the Open University basic courses were no longer as attractive as Scotvec modules. In turn, adults might want to become part of the Higher Still programme.
The conference heard ABE workers, many of whom are part-time or voluntary, express concern about the complexity of Higher Still. Staff were also anxious about joining the assessment bandwagon and several complained that assessing essential skills did not sit happily with their informal approach. Many adults simply wanted to learn to meet a particular aim and had no thoughts of taking their learning further.
Charlie McConnell, the SCEC's director, later called for up to Pounds 500, 000 to be spent on basic skills to match the equivalent sum south of the border. The Basic Skills Agency in England and Wales receives Pounds 4.5 million for research and development on family literacy, workplace education and support for local workers.
Mr McConnell urged further research into basic skills deficiencies. "There is a general feeling in the community education field that the basic education specialism has been watered down enough. We are hoping to put basic education back on the agenda," he said.
* The TESS conference on Higher Still takes place on Monday in Edinburgh. Full report, next week.