A joint Scottish Office and local authority conference reflected continuing worries over post-16 reforms. David Henderson reports
AN Educational Institute of Scotland survey of classrom teachers' views of Higher Still is expected to pinpoint substantial variations in preparation between different subjects. A second major concern is anxiety about adding to an already heavy workload.
The study has attracted the attention of Brian Wilson, the Education Minister. Speaking to a joint Scottish Office and local authority conference last week, Mr Wilson promised to listen to teachers' concerns.
But Fred Forrester, EIS depute general secretary, told the minister the reforms were being introduced under "uniquely unfavourable circumstances".
He said local authorities had suffered a succession of cuts, the 5-14 programme was still being developed in secondaries and teachers' salaries had failed to rise. If Higher Still was to be implemented on time, teachers needed full off the shelf support materials and access to items in the national assessment bank.
Mr Forrester accepted resourcing of development had been "fairly generous". But implementation would require further substantial funds, and schools were just over 11 months away from the beginning of the new courses.
"The crucial period for the formation of teachers' opinion is this summer. Unless we have something in terms of resourcing the implementation by September, we're in real trouble," Mr Forrester said.
Elizabeth Maginnis, the local authorities' education spokeswoman, replied that in Edinburgh most of the new money going into secondaries was being invested in Higher Still and new technology. Heads had received an extra pound;36 for each pupil since May last year. But she urged the Education Minister to ensure longer-term "transparent, dependable resources".
David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said his members would wait until teachers could see the materials, expected to arrive in schools over the summer holidays. Then sometime in the autumn they would decide whether Higher Still should go ahead. "It depends on the curriculum materials being delivered on time and assurances about staffing levels," he said.
John Kelly, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' spokesman, welcomed the two extra days' in-service and hoped teachers would be left to use the time as they wished. "We're now in the situation in English where all that's been done, now needs to be undone," he said, referring to the substantial changes to the original materials.
Mr Kelly believed the first years of Higher Still would be geared towards the 40 per cent of pupils who pass the existing Highers and not the 60 per cent who fail.
"Maybe we should be looking to introduce Intermediate 1 and 2 first. But very few schools are going to," he said.
There was also a danger of concentrating on the Advanced Higher to the detriment of the whole programme. The two-term dash to the new Highers would remain, he feared.
Donald Matheson, Headteachers' Association of Scotland spokesman, said:
"We've got to get ahead now and make it work." But there were still major issues to be tackled, such as assessment, bi-level teaching and resources available to local authorities.