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Radical revamp touted at S grade

A revitalised Standard grade, internally assessed at the lower stages and absorbing the best of Intermediate level, could emerge from nascent plans being touted among the country's educational power-brokers.

But it is likely to be another six years before the long-awaited reforms are introduced and only after the profession is given a chance to take ownership of any changes. Ministers accept there is some way to go, with teachers taking different views on the merits of courses at Standard grade and Intermediate levels.

Early signs suggest that ministers have no desire to push a new Standard grade course into S2, except where schools want to for particular reasons.

They will hold to their position of appropriate courses for age and stage and it is unlikely they will go beyond the present guidance on that.

Ministers are reputed to be against pushing whole cohorts of pupils into earlier exams, although some schools and authorities have already gone down this route. Indeed Peter Peacock, Education Minister, favours the approach in New Zealand where there is one external post-16 exam. Mr Peacock is opposed to exams in each of the last three years of our secondary stage.

He recently told The TES Scotland seminar in Inverness that there was value in Standard grade courses, but these should not be confused with the exam.

The Scottish Executive is already publicly committed to "address the relationship between Standard grade and the new National Qualifications".

Some suspect Intermediate levels may disappear as a result.

The TES Scotland understands it is unlikely there will be a large development team similar to the one that devised Higher Still and more likely that a series of projects will test options across secondaries in an echo of the Assessment is for Learning programme. Funding may be announced soon.

Speaking to the eighth Edinburgh Conference last week (page four), the minister again spelt out his determination to bring some order to the secondary stage. It was important to be aware of what drove learning in the curriculum.

"There is a danger that the exam system in Scotland reaches down to year 1 in secondary and pulls kids through a very particular route, rather than the exam system existing at the end of a process where teachers decide what is taught. We have got to have further dialogue about how we get the balance right," he said.

On a wider front, he believed achievement and not just attainment in exams was the future.

Mr Peacock was responding to hard-hitting comments by Judith McClure, headteacher of the independent St George's School in Edinburgh, who asserted that secondary education was distorted by external assessment.

"Our exam system is being run for entry to a few elite universities and not for the interests of our pupils," Dr McClure stated.

In making changes, ministers will be mindful of union feelings and may want to retain some form of external assessment for 16-year-old leavers.

Teachers continue to harbour doubts about wholesale transfer to internal assessment because of reliability and workload concerns, and many believe Standard grade has credibility among parents and employers.

In seeking to regain control, ministers will also want to embed into a new qualifications framework the expansion of skills for work courses among S2-S4 pupils, a dimension that was not considered when Standard grade was developed more than 20 years ago.

Responding to the development, an Executive spokesman said: "When we launched our school reform programme, Ambitious, Excellent Schools, we made clear that we would review the link between Standard grade and the new National Qualifications to simplify the structure, widen opportunities and improve progression. We have also said publicly since then that there is much about Standard grade that needs to be retained.

"In order to meet that commitment, and alongside the curriculum review, we are thinking through the various options for the future qualifications landscape. However, no decisions have yet been made and nor will they be until we have thoroughly engaged with the wider education community."

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