The reaction to the news that a review is taking place which could affect the future of low take-up subjects at Higher has been fascinating and instructive. The Scottish Qualifications Authority, sensibly, has taken the view that nothing should be set in aspic. So it has decided to look at those subjects that attract fewer than 100 candidates, which last year would have involved fewer than 1 per cent of those who sat Highers.
Subjects found to be in this category would then trigger a detailed review which would then trigger a decision that would include non-educational as well as educational factors, and it could all take 10 years - hardly the stuff of instant decision-making.
There will no doubt be endless arguments about the validity of setting a trigger of 100 entries. But it is surprising that those who have criticised the SQA review should become exercised about the future of Higher hairdressing and dance practice; in reality, the reaction is more likely to be conditioned by the threats to subjects like Higher classical Greek and Russian than the more recent vocational subjects ushered in by Higher Still.
The main reason for the disturbance, of course, is that the subjects are all at Higher level, which any person meddles with at their peril, as the Howie committee found out very quickly in the 1990s. Yet, the subjects concerned are in the minority in an exam which is itself taken by a minority. The view that the SQA is somehow threatening diversity and choice for Higher students is a myth: as Howie demonstrated, the actual subjects sat at Higher by any one student cover a very narrow range.
There is nothing to stop many of these highly specialist subjects being transferred to the rather more natural setting of a college, where they could be reincarnated as HNCs and HNDs. At a time when there is to be the greatest ever drive to bring schools and colleges closer together, this would seem a logical step.