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Higher Still falls to earth

THE "rocket for exam chiefs" launched at the conference of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (TESS, last week) and fuelled by the serious problems in the Higher Still programme, requires further comment.

The problems which have arisen were predicted by us over the past three years in detailed analysis which was ignored or summarily dismissed by those responsible for providing an authentic and credible national qualification system for senior pupils - a responsibility which they have clearly failed to meet.

However, it is unfair to aim these rockets at the Scottish Qualifications Authority. I know many senior figures in the SQA agree with our analysis of Higher Still but, as they repeat, Higher Still is a political project, not an educational programme and, in such circumstances, it is difficult for them to deal with the enormous practical and professional problems which are arising, as we said they would, with internal assessment.

Furthermore, responsibility for the courses was only handed over to the SQA fairly recently and most of the damage had already been done by the ministers and HMI responsible who now, like the politicians they are, are happy to see others take the blame.

The situation in English is scandalous. Materials whih have been used for certification purposes in unit one are now declared unfit for use, thus destroying what little credibility the National Assessment Bank might have possessed. The support materials for unit two have also been withdrawn a year after they were defended by the authorities from the reasoned and experienced criticism of teachers. This means there is no material in place to support that unit.

As for unit three, the always silly insistence upon assessing oral and aural skills has now descended into farce with the authorities unable to provide suitable materials and offering conflicting advice as to how to proceed. Meanwhile the other part of unit three - the specialist study - retains all the problematical features of its predecessor, the review of personal reading - no teacher in Scotland can honestly guarantee the complete authenticity of these pieces of work.

The criteria for deciding upon implementation are, as The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has agreed, still in force. Quite clearly, with regard to the above points alone, they cannot be met. English departments, on this basis, will surely not be implementing this year.

Tony McManus

Scottish Association of Teachers of Language and Literature, Edinburgh.

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