Teacher leaders voiced fears this week about second-class schools as they assessed the implications of the Garrick report's strong backing for the Advanced Higher as a bridge to university. Some secondaries, they believe, would not be able to put forward candidates for the sixth-year Higher Still exam, which the Garrick committee recommends should carry credits towards degrees.
Jim McNair, secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said that while heads supported Advanced Higher they were worried about resources to offer it. "We cannot have some schools able to produce only second-class citizens," Mr McNair said.
Mr McNair also doubted the attractiveness to pupils of the proposed three-year bachelors degrees in preference to traditional four-year honours courses. "Personally I think that the general degree has died a natural death in Scotland and there is no great yen to revive it."
Barbara Clark, assistant general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said that Highers should continue to be the benchmark for university entry. But in the "piecemeal reforms" of school and higher education they appeared to be being downgraded. "At all costs, we must avoid a system which puts Scottish pupils at a disadvantage compared with those in the south," Mrs Clark said.
Fred Forrester, depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said that Garrick had ducked the difference in funding faced by students following a four-year honours degree compared with those on three-year courses at English universities also culminating in honours.
Frank Gerstenberg, principal of George Watson's College in Edinburgh, said: "Anything which strengthens the sixth year is to be welcomed." But he accepted that smaller schools would struggle. "This is not a matter of independent and state schools being on different sides of the fence. Small independent schools would also lack the resources."
Ron Tuck, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, welcomed the prospect of a coherent Scottish qualifications framework from school and further education to university. The SQA believed that the Garrick report was in line with the Higher Still programme, and he looked forward to exploring with higher education the implications of Advanced Higher credits and of top-up courses leading to an accelerated degree.
"For example, will it become possible to do an honours degree in three and a half years instead of four?" Mr Tuck speculated.