One parent commented: "With many pupils staying on until sixth year, I feel four Highers would be sufficient in fifth year. Pressure to constantly do well can result in burn out and loss of interest."
Judith Gillespie, the council's development manager, said the Higher Still dilemma of assessment overload could be resolved by making four subjects the norm. Parents of students taking five Highers were critical of the pressures created by repeated unit assessments, although, ambiguously, they recognise the value in keeping students focused.
Alternatively, there could be a sharp cut in the burden of internal assessment in the school sector, Mrs Gillespie said.
The random survey in 120 secondaries of 297 parents whose children sat national qualifications in S5 reveals a marked difference in attitude towards internal assessment between those taking five Highers and those taking fewer subjects.
Mrs Gillespie observes: "The five Highers group have an overall negative view of internal assessment while the parents of those who took fewer than five subjects have a positive view. Analysis of last year's data shows exactly the same variation.
"Moreover, this finding is supported by the Scottish Qualification Authority's own analysis of pupil views in 2000 when they found the more able pupils were negative about internal assessments and less able pupils more positive."
The SPTC believes the differences are hidden in overall averages. "It also helps explain the contrasting views of the school and further education sectors," Mrs Gillespie said.
Forty-five per cent of the five Highers group said there had been too much internal assessment in contrast to 17 per cent from the group which sat fewer subjects. Similarly, the five Highers group were more likely to say assessments were a poor indicator of the final exam.
"When it came to saying that there had been too many assessments too close together, then 56 per cent of girls and of those taking five Highers made this observation in contrast to 35 per cent of boys and 31 per cent of those taking less than five subjects," the survey report states. The results were released today (Friday).