'No decisions yet on Standard grade'

The Education Minister has made clear there are no plans to indulge in any "root and branch" review of qualifications, in a bid to calm fears about plans to remove the Standard grade exam.

But Peter Peacock confirmed in a parliamentary debate last week, when he gave a progress report on the Scottish Executive's Ambitious, Excellent Schools blueprint, that there would be a review of the link between Standard grade and National Qualifications so pupils could progress more smoothly.

Change to the qualifications system was "not only necessary but inevitable as a consequence of changes to the curriculum", Mr Peacock said.

He described the Executive's thinking as being "in its early stages"

although, as The TES Scotland reported last month, it remains a possibility that the best of Standard grade courses would be kept while ditching the exam.

Mr Peacock pledged: "No decisions have yet been made, nor will they be made until we have thoroughly engaged with the education community and others."

In a debate which saw some robust exchanges with Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's education spokesperson, Mr Peacock also gave an undertaking that he was not contemplating the abolition of history as a separate subject, a charge he described as "complete nonsense".

"If Fiona Hyslop took the trouble to read the curriculum review that we published a year ago, she would see that, at its centre, is a statement about creating 'responsible citizens with . . . respect for others' who have a 'commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life' and are 'able to . . . develop knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it," he said.

"That encapsulates in a few words what she has been trying to say for the best part of 10 minutes without much success."

Both the SNP and Tories criticised the lack of aspiration by the Executive in having only 20 schools of ambition. But Mr Peacock said that, after just one year, the Executive had met 38 out of 69 separate commitments in Ambitious, Excellent Schools, including the schools of ambition.

Despite rumours that his plans would fall foul of the squeeze on spending being directed by Tom McCabe, Finance Minister, Mr Peacock announced that more schools would be invited to join.

While ministers have come under pressure to adopt the "radical" reforms associated with Tony Blair in England, Robert Brown, Deputy Education Minister, said that, according to a report from the Ofsted school inspectorate, one in four schools in England was unsatisfactory or poor.

The Scottish figure was one school in 14.

"We must deal with the schools that are not as successful as others," Mr Brown commented, "but there is a difference in kind between the position in Scotland and that in England."

Support for the Executive came from an unexpected quarter. Murdo Fraser, new depute leader of the Scottish Tories, said: "We support the principle of Ambitious, Excellent Schools. We welcome the steps that the Executive has taken towards greater devolved school management and autonomy, modest though they may be.

"We also accept that, across the piece, the general standard of education in Scotland is good and that most of our children receive a good quality of education."

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