Age barrier may go for high achievers

14th August 1998 at 01:00
The prospect of pupils being able to sit their Standard grade exams in third year and Highers in the fourth is one of the early decisions awaiting confirmation by the new Education Minister.

The curriculum council believes this will give schools welcome flexibility in meeting pupils' needs. The existing "age and stage" restrictions mean that exceptional presentations involve a cumbersome procedure and need approval by the Scottish Qualifications Authority on a case-by-case basis.

The draft guidelines for secondary schools assume the Scottish Office had already begun consulting on the changes, which would allow schools to reach their own decisions about pupils sitting exams. But the ministerial reshuffle has delayed the consultation.

The Educational Institute of Scotland opposed a change when it was first proposed under the last government, fearing that pupils would be selected as early as primary school for what could be a "fast-track" benefiting an academic elite.

But the confirmation that a new level F, which would be broadly comparable to Standard grade Credit level, was to be added to the 5-14 framework has revived the issue.

Graham Donaldson, depute senior chief inspector of schools, said in June that there had to be a question mark over whether "it makes any sense for some pupils, who will be at level F at the end of S2, to wait for two years when they may be capable of gaining a Credit award at Standard grade in their third year".

But Mr Donaldson stressed that Standard grade would continue as the main exam for pupils in their fourth year. There were "penny numbers" of pupils applying to sit their exams a year early and he did not believe that giving schools more discretion would produce a surge.

George MacBride, the EIS's education convener, supports more flexibility in course arrangements which is a cornerstone of the curricular proposals from the curriculum council's task group, of which he was a member (see main story).

Mr MacBride said it would not just be academic high-flyers who would benefit. Schools could also draw on Higher Still Access courses if they felt that was more appropriate for pupils before they reached fifth year.

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