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Teachers say they'll stand by Higher Still

Higher Still makes great demands on teachers but they do not want to ditch it. Simplifying internal assessment would make the major difference. These are the major conclusions of a Mori poll carried out by the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

The unusual joint move follows rising concern about the impact of post-16 reforms in schools and colleges and the need to produce impartial evidence on the classroom view.

Unions have queried previous and continuing administration investigations into Higher Still, believing them to be tainted by the drive to push the programme ahead as fast as possible.

The independent poll of 386 EIS members in schools and further education and 150 from the SSTA was conducted between the end of November and the beginning of January. Forty per cent of those interviewed were unpromoted with most aged 40-49. One in three was a principal teacher.

Results show clear attitudes to Higher Still across the profession but significant differences as well.

Sixty per cent of teachers support the reforms with only 21 per cent against. But opinion is divided about how much better or worse the new Higher level is. Some 57 per cent think it has made little or marginal difference while more than one in three believe Highers are worse. Encouragingly, 64 per cent say Access and Intermediate courses are better than previous provision.

But teachers' greatest burden is internal assessment. Just under 60 per cent say it has not worked well, although 41 per cent believe it has.

Teachers' major complaint is the addition to workload caused by repeated unit assessments. Asignificant 84 per cent say extra work is involved and 69 per cent say it has also added to students' workload. Just over half say it is not a good guide to external assessment, 68 per cent say it interferes with the normal teaching process and 54 per cent say it is open to individuals' interpretation.

More than half (57 per cent) believe it has been difficult to introduce internal assessment. Only 24 per cent say it has been easy. Those who found it difficult say scheduling a large number of assessments has led to problems and the volume of reassessments has not helped.

But internal assessment has its strengths. Some 57 per cent say it provides recognition of achievement, 45 per cent that it helps measure students' development and 46 per cent that it encourages and motivates students.

Most teachers (54 per cent) believe National Assessment Bank materials are good and 61 per cent only use NABs. More than four out of 10 say unit assessments prepare students well for external assessment in contrast to 50 per cent who say they do not.

Reforms are more difficult to pin down. Sixty per cent think internal assessment should continue in a revised form but 29 per cent say it should cease.

A slim majority (52 per cent) want to remove the requirement to pass all units to gain a course award. More than one in three (35 per cent) want assessments rescheduled and 30 per cent want internal assessment only for Access and Intermediate courses. Almost one in three want the option of an additional external paper.

Intriguingly, 50 per cent say they would reinstate the old Higher if mandatory internal assessment was discontinued.

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