New bid to stop tests boycott

MINISTERS have moved to thwart any boycott of internal assessment by launching yet another effort to cut the post-16 testing burden.

But they face a daunting struggle in attempting to reconcile the contradictory views of schools and colleges about the three mandatory unit tests, prelims and the final exams. So far, all efforts have failed.

Details of an assessment support group and focus group which will report to the National Qualifications Task Group emerged as the Educational Institute of Scotland begins to wrestle with its stance on a boycott. Campaigners want the union's leadership to change tack and press for substantial cuts in assessment by backing limited industrial action. Members would have to be balloted.

A special meeting next week of the EIS executive council will debate the strategy, based on the decisions of its education committee, which meets today (Friday).

Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, met EIS leaders last week to unveil her proposals. She wants a new group drawn from teachers, lecturers and other agencies to begin work in early October. The group will look at the balance of assessment, the materials and activities available to support assessment and the use of ICT in easing paperwork. It will be chaired by a Scottish Executive official.

Ms Jamieson told MSPs last session that she would be doing more to help teachers and promised a "toolkit of assessment items and support materials", a job that will now be handed to the new group. It will provide exemplar materials, marking schemes and advice on how to avoid duplication.

An Executive spokesman said: "The group will look at the various tasks related to assessment and the guidance available and will make recommendations on a model of support for the future. It will report to the task group by the end of December. The group will also be asked to consider other ways in which the burdens relating to assessment could be reduced."

The spokesman said it was "just a number of things we are doing to streamline the system, including subject reviews".

The latest initiative follows what became known as the option A, option B consultation last autumn which produced no clear way forward. A majority of respondents rejected both options but few teachers bothered to take part.

The most favoured option was for the existing system to continue, "modified by the subject review process". Of 70 subjects reviewed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, 18 are still waiting to have their assessment streamlined.

In May, Ms Jamieson told MSPs: "We need to build in thorough scrutiny and review of all courses to ensure that we never again reach a point at which teachers and candidates cannot cope with the assessment demands that are placed on them. We will agree new arrangements with the SQA and work with key stakeholders to ensure the lessons have been learnt and acted on."

In June, Ronnie Alexander, a West Dunbartonshire campaigner, told the EIS's annual conference that the leadership's policy of "fudge, nudge and compromise" had failed to deliver.

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