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Progress can't wait

LEAVE aside for the moment the concerns of teachers presenting candidates for Higher Still. Parents will welcome the report (page three) to the Higher Still National Liaison Committee. The last thing they would want is further confusion and delay. The small number of non-educationists who have followed the story since the Howie committee report in 1992 will say that the promised changes have been long enough in coming.

Contrast that with the demand by union activists for another year's postponement, at least for English and possibly for some other subjects. Unhappiness with internal assessment is particularly strong among English teachers, for whom assessment has always been more time consuming than for many of their colleagues. They say that pupils are being shortchanged. But the Executive is adamant that there will be no more delay. The tail cannot wag the dog.

Behind that is the claim that for the most part the introductio of Higher Still is working well. The report by HMI to the national liaison committee, based on 16 schools (hopefully representative), points to steady progress and pupils in positive mood. There is no sign of assessment overload.

Dissenters will say that Nelson saw no signal because he put the telescope to his blind eye. They will recall Brian Wilson's bitter complaint on parting with his ministerial portfolio that HMI had misled him about the climate in staffrooms. It has to be the role of the promoter of reform to talk it up and and deny difficulties.

Despite HMI's optimism English continues to pose problems for more than just the awkward squad. Repeated assessments and the going over of old material are demotivating for both pupils and teachers. English is worst affected, but assessment overload is more widely identified. Teachers want to continue to monitor pupils' progress but free from external bureaucracy.

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