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Now it's higher still for boys

Remember the days when Higher Still used to dominate the headlines? Every year, there was talk of ballots and boycotts amid endless reviews. Now, there is barely a ripple of protest in union ranks. Indeed, there is not one mention of Higher Still on the agenda of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association annual conference next week, not even on workload.

The reform programme has settled down and, as we report (page one), appears to be producing benefits in terms of rising attainment for boys. Girls'

performance at Higher and Advanced Higher is steady, but boys are showing marked improvements. What are the causes of this remarkable finding of international importance? The Scottish Qualifications Authority suggests the structure of units and continuous assessment may have something to do with it. Boys are pushed far more than they used to be by the need to focus on completing units. Chunks of learning with an end test may appeal more.

Then there is the teacher effect, which is probably the most significant.

It is the practice in the classroom that makes the difference to individual students. Teachers have done their training, absorbed the messages about learning styles and teaching strategies and adapted their classroom approaches, whether this is single-sex classes or more appropriate texts or whatever.

What the SQA calls the "architecture" of Higher Still and the teacher effect are likely to be the reasons why the attainment gap is narrowing rapidly. Then, just when we thought we had got it right, it appears girls'

attitudes to learning are a concern in some secondaries. That is equality of a sort.

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