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Higher Still, but not so fast

Pressure for postponement builds up. Teacher unions, management and the opposition parties all want Higher Still put back a year. The Government, having conceded a year on the original timetable and having put money into preparation for the reforms, is unwilling to take another step back.

The awful example of Standard grade looms large: from decision on the need to introduce new S4 exams until completion of the programme took about 15 years. Whole families passed through what was recognised as an unsatisfactory secondary system. The contrast was drawn with further education which adopted the 16-plus action plan and modules almost overnight.

There is now a contrast in perceptions of Higher Still. While schools (but not FE?) say that 1998 would be too soon to start teaching for the new Highers and the two Intermediate levels, the promoters of Higher Still tick off targets already fulfilled, and express confidence about the timetable for the next 18 months. The greatest consultation exercise in the history of Scottish education remains on course. Inspectors and members of the Higher Still unit run themselves ragged addressing briefings. There is no reason to think that teachers would let their pupils down.

As often happens, the view from the centre and from the staffroom is different. Extraneous objects obscure the picture, in this case pressure on council budgets and the reduction in school resources. And if Labour secures its expected election victory, incoming ministers would reasonably seek a pause for thought. That is what happened when the Conservatives inherited the Munn and Dunning proposals in 1979. Higher Still would be looked at again. That conceded, postponement should not lapse into abandonment.

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