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'Mixed verdict' is no surprise

Educational reform in Scotland is not a glorious chapter in our recent history - as even those in charge of its various manifestations will admit.

A clean sheet of paper would surely not have begun with 14-16s, moved back to the 5-14 stages and then proceeded to make a great leap forward to the post-16 years. But that is exactly how Standard grade, the overhaul of the primary and early secondary years and Higher Still were conceived and born.

Not only was there no sequential sense, but there was no sense that the changes should in any way be joined-up.

So it ought not to come as a surprise that the latest report on the implementation of Higher Still (page one) has produced "a mixed verdict".

At one stage, namely the implosion of the exam system in 2000, it might have seemed that even a mixed verdict would be a hopelessly optimistic expectation. But the fact that the post-16 reforms have worked to some extent, by widening opportunities for youngsters on the Intermediate-Access continuum, for example, is to their credit - but also to the credit of schools and colleges which have made it work.

For surely the lesson from Higher Still is that overly ambitious reforms that look good on paper must be regarded with appropriate suspicion. That particular initiative - which sought a unified curriculum and assessment system for all pupils on all academic and vocational courses in all schools and all colleges, based on new courses, units and core skills - was destined to collapse under the weight of its own complexity.

As the Executive moves to preside over significant changes in the curriculum, assessment and teacher education, let Higher Still be a reminder that we don't want to see another trio of terrible beauties slouching towards schools to be born.

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