Councils have taken a significant step forwards to ensure that the Advanced Higher is available to all pupils, including the controversial acceptance that sixth-form colleges might be inevitable in some parts of Scotland.
At a meeting last Friday between Brian Wilson, the Education Minister and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, both sides agreed that not all schools would be capable of offering the full Advanced Higher curriculum, due to be introduced from 2000.
"If the Advanced Higher is to be part of the accreditation system for higher education and not just the present sixth-year muddle, it is important that pupils are exposed to the whole diet if there is to be equitable provision across Scotland," Elizabeth Maginnis, the convention's education spokesperson, said.
Councils are now agreed that the course can only be implemented if schools network with each other, co-operate with FE colleges, and explore possibilities such as sixth-form colleges. Although unwilling to be drawn on the details, Mr Wilson welcomed "these useful and constructive suggestions".
Mrs Maginnis predicted that the days of "the homogeneous, all-through comprehensive school could be numbered as new arrangements for delivering the Advanced Higher are considered. That is not to say the six-year comprehensive will not continue to flourish since Higher Still is also based on the assumption that pupils will be able to take their Highers over two years. "
Mr Wilson said the meeting had "unblocked some avenues of communication on a number of issues" although no concrete commitments were given. Councils expressed particular concern at the overload on secondary schools which are also under pressure to speed progress on the 5-14 programme.
It is now clear that they intend to give priority to English and maths in the first two secondary years. They have severe doubts, however, whether 5-14 environmental studies can be introduced in line with national guidance. The Scottish Office, we understand, has promised to review the guidelines.
Cosla is also continuing to press for more resources for Higher Still as it moves from its development to implementation phase. Edinburgh estimates it could cost Pounds 750,000 in additional teacher time and staff training to make the programme a reality in the classroom.
Mr Wilson told The TES Scotland he was willing to consider "active steps to disseminate information about Higher Still, including a relaunch if necessary to remind everybody what it is all about".
Despite the difficulties, Mrs Maginnis said councils of every political hue had given an undertaking to implement 5-14 and Higher Still in line with the national time-scale of completion in 1999-2000 for 5-14 and introduction that session for Higher Still.