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Reform too close for comfort

ometimes politicians just cannot win. They come up with a policy designed to return the initiative to teachers, giving their professionalism its due place and trying to streamline their burdens - and they still get a curmudgeonly response. The little-noticed circular on assessment and reporting from the Scottish Executive (page 3) is a case in point. The rhetoric is what teachers have been waiting for years to hear from officialdom - assessment is there to support learning and inform planning for improvement, teachers' judgements will remain central, test scores on their own are not sufficient to measure a pupil's attainment, and so on.

The circular has plenty of comfort.

But are the reformers too many steps ahead of the profession? Assessment, with its requirements for collating and recording evidence (not least to present to HMIE when its inspectors pay a visit), is always going to be a time-consuming business.

The further refinements which the Executive now proposes - summative and formative assessment for internal school purposes, and external assessment as a check on the progress of the system as a whole - will add to the demands on teachers, at least initially. It is, of course, entirely possible to teach old dogs new tricks - but not overnight.

While these assessment changes may represent a coherent package on paper, they also require to cohere in the heads of teachers. This is particularly so with the new ingredient of personal learning planning being dropped into the mix at a time when many teachers are, to say the least, sceptical that it can be delivered. And all this is to be introduced from the new school session in August.

The Executive may indeed say that a great deal of this has been accomplished already. Maybe yes, maybe no. But not all schools have been involved in the Assessment is for Learning programme, and will perhaps require more time.

So long as HMIE notes that the new arrangements should only start in the 2005-06 session, rather than be fully implemented then, there is scope for well-planned change.

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