The Educational Institute of Scotland has hit back at the independent sector for criticising the Higher Still programme and role and status of the Advanced Higher within the revised fifth and sixth-year system.
The union accepts able students should be given credit by universities and colleges for Advanced Higher work but emphasises that Highers will remain the chief means of entry. "We will counter, wherever possible, any attempt, implicit or explicit, to deride student achievement at levels other than Advanced Higher," it states in its submission on the Dearing and Garrick reports.
The Higher Still programme has to meet the needs of all students and it would be wrong to focus on only one aspect, according to the union. Much of the attack on sixth year was from those politically committed to attacking comprehensive education and from the private sector concerned at the possible loss of income if the Higher was main benchmark for entry to higher education, the institute says.
The union points out that many schools will not be able to take Advanced Highers because of resources available to schools, the size of the school or the social background of the most students.
The EIS believes: "HE institutions will wish to serve the whole community and in so doing will recognise the demands of social justice and accept that a dependence on the Advanced Higher as the principal qualification for entry will discriminate against young people in less advantaged socio-economic groups. "
The union suggests higher education institutions, faculties and departments should examine the overlap in content between Advanced Higher and first-year courses or units and offer credits where appropriate. Students could then be directed to other projects to build up their course, such as learning a modern language or developing computer literacy.
"Students," the union states, "will be very unlikely to gain such a group of Advanced Highers as to be able to bypass the whole of the first year of an HE course and to gain entry into the second year." There are emotional, social and educational reasons why a student should not move directly from S6 to second year at university. Students coming from further education with an a higher national certificate may be more experienced.
The EIS argues that Advanced Higher should not be used as an excuse to reduce the length of higher education courses and the four-year honours degree and it should not affect higher national certificates and diplomas. "It should be recognised that the school and HE environments provide different experiences for their students and that the current system produces cohorts of graduates who are younger than those in other countries," the union says.
The union suggests widest possible access to higher education is best achieved by a variety of entry routes, including further education.
On funding, it rejects the Government's plans for charging tuition fees and scrapping grants and backs a balance between means-tested grant and income-contingent loan. The shortfall in higher education funding could be met by contributions from industry.