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One pass won't do

Among the reasons given for another rethink or postponement of Higher Still, the least convincing is based on the success of this year's Highers.More pupils are doing well without the exam standard being lowered. Why fix something that isn't bust?

A closer look at the statistics published by the Scottish Qualifications Authority should dispel the notion. There were 60,934 Higher candidates but only 48,079 secured at least one pass, and of these almost 18,000 had only a single success. There are a lot of pupils for whom Highers remain a chancy, disappointing experience, and there are many who return after S4 for whom they are not intended at all. The Howie committee pointed out these facts six years ago. They remain the strongest argument for introducing a wider ranger of assessment that still challenges the ablest but gives all pupils something to aim for.

To be fair to most of the teachers who now reject the timetable and conditions of reform and who would support a boycott if their unions decide this autumn that a challenge should be mounted, the principles of the Howie report and of the Government's Opportunity for All paper initiating Higher Still command their support. Resources, assessment procedures, in some cases course content, are the reasons for disenchantment together with unresolved but related issues which the millennium review may or may not address constructively.

The outlook for reforms on the scale being tackled by the Higher Still Development Unit can be judged nationally, as it is by the unions, and at school and college level. At the start of the new session The TES Scotland will look at key aspects with, next week, a study of the state of readiness in one small secondary and nationally at the concerns of guidance teachers who are expected to start pre-Higher Still preparation with the incoming S4 only five months from now.

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