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No end in sight for Higher Still's English odyssey

simmering teacher discontent with post-16 English and Communication courses is to spark yet another review.

Representatives of the Educational Institute of Scotland on the National Qualifications Steering Group last week won backing for another inquiry that is likely to consider content and assessment in courses at Intermediate and Higher levels.

They want the arguments settled once and for all after pointing out that changes introduced this session did not go far enough, partly because teachers did not want to meddle with courses part-way through the year.

Opposition to the design of Higher Still courses has already won significant concessions from ministers who have allowed English teachers to postpone courses for two years. Only a fifth of schools in the first year took on national developments, most sticking with the old Higher.

Sonia Kordiak, EIS education vice-convener and an English teacher in Midlothian, called for a "root and branch" review from a Scottish Qualifications Authority task group. As the awarding body, the SQA will set up the inquiry that Ms Kordiak hopes will be able to influence courses from June. She anticipates a further delay in introducing Higher Still English if it proves impossible.

Others fear changes that would gain teacher support would have to be implemented over a longer time-scale. Drafting amendments that were also acceptable to lecturers in further education colleges could prove a stumbling block.

Ms ordiak said: "I hope we will be able to look at this in an open and honest way. A lot of people say they do not want tinkering."

She wants the latest review to question whether a single system of assessment is able to cover both schools and FE, although she acknowledges this has wider implications.

"The whole purpose of English and Communication needs consideration. Is it a subject in its own right (English literature) or is it a service subject (communication)? Is there a need for two courses?" she asks.

"Generally, no matter the level, many believe there are too many summative assessments and that these are taking away from teaching and learning and making courses boring. The level required to passdo well in the courses is seen to be too hard across all levels," Ms Kordiak said.

Questions remain over key aspects of each course element, she says. Talking and listening, for example, are recognised as important skills but teachers harbour concerns about their formal assessment.

Tony McManus, chair of the Scottish Association of Teachers of Language and Literature, said: "They still have not got English right and it ought not to be implemented at all. One review after another does not help children or teachers."

Mr McManus, a strong opponent of the Higher Still philosophy, still believes a modular approach to English does not work. "I think the EIS ignores the wishes of its members on this. It is part of the problem," he said.

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