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Sticking by Higher Still

Higher Still has gone quiet recently. That is because attention was focused on the post-McCrone pay and conditions talks. Concerns about Higher Still, which is due to have a more pronounced presence in secondaries in this and the next few sessions, have become embroiled in wider worries about how the Scottish Qualifications Authority will cope with the exams later in the year. The fiasco last year was exacerbated, though not caused, by the introduction of Higher Still assessments. The Executive resisted attempts in the autumn to scrap or put the whole programme on hold, though there were concessions on the flow of internal assessment data to and from the SQA.

That is the background to the survey commissioned by the two largest secondary school and college unions (page four). It found that most teachers support the aims of Higher Still, especially coherent courses and qualifications at a level below Higher. It also found that assessment cretes an unwelcome burden. Although there is no desire to throw the baby out with the bath water, that is, to remove Higher Still because of the assessment problems, teachers' tolerance is clearly being stretched. Fortunately, professionalism and recognition of pupils' needs take precedence over workload concerns. Their attitude is an affirmation of the confidence in the teaching force expressed by the Education Minister in announcing the pay and conditions agreement.

Jack McConnell is pledged to give teachers a greater say in what they do in the classroom. Previous ministers have said much the same, but he sounds more convincing, and his reforms to the Inspectorate make a little less likely the imposition of schemes that look good on paper but come apart under day-to-day pressures. With hindsight, no one would now make Higher Still so complicated. But its principles remain sound, and teacher views should count in how it develops.

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