Brian Wilson confirmed he is dropping Tory plans to introduce compulsory, external national testing in the first two years of secondary school, a move that has been universally welcomed by the teaching profession.
But May Ferries, retiring president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, addressing delegates at the union's annual conference in Perth yesterday (Thursday), called on Mr Wilson to launch a full investigation of the 5-14 curriculum and assessment procedures. A new level F was not a priority, she said.
Ms Ferries met the minister on Tuesday with other EIS representatives and pressed her argument to slim down the "overloaded" curriculum, especially in the primary sector. In a dramatic change from the recent past, Mr Wilson agreed to meet the union four times a year to discuss issues. Ms Ferries said of the union's concerns about 5-14: "I get the impression that something may actually happen."
Primary teachers had concentrated on introducing mathematics and English but were sinking under the burden of environmental studies, expressive arts and religious and moral education. "It just won't fit in, plus modern languages, plus computer literacy, plus, plus, plus," Ms Ferries told delegates.
"We are turning out pupils with butterfly brains because they are not staying on a subject any length of time," she said later.
The union is pressing for a review of the levels and their labels which are "largely meaningless" and "confuse parents" and calling for a re-examination of assessment. Ms Ferries questions the quality of the current confirmatory tests and the time and cost involved.
Margaret Doran, head of schools services in Stirling, this week echoed her concerns. "We are almost 10 years into 5-14 and maybe it is time for reflection to improve it, a rain check, before we look at other levels. It is maybe appropriate to look at the whole programme and evaluate where we are just now. There are perhaps bigger issues in secondary in 5-14 than developing level F. There are issues such as fragmentation in the curriculum and coherence and children facing 18 different teachers in S1," Ms Doran said.
Mr Wilson said the Government's consultation exercise on national testing showed there was "almost universal support" for level F. He said: "It will play a part in the drive towards improving standards, especially for abler pupils at the P7 to S2 stages."