BEFORE the Executive's inquiry into the Scottish Qualifications Authority is even set up, teachers are beginning work with their new Higher Still classes. Soon they will have to embark on the long round of assessments that will culminate in the delivery of data to the SQA next spring. Even if the electronic flow of information is smooth, the nature of what is required cannot wait on a prolonged debate about the evolving philosophy of Higher Still.
It is ironic that decisions will now have to be taken more quickly than was the case with the initial development of courses and assessment procedures, which won time from Government-sanctioned delays. Last week we said that the SQA debacle should not jeopardise the future of Higher Still. Teachers and others should have the opportunity to judge the value of, say, internal assessments free from concern abou whether data will be properly received and used by exam officials. But unless there can be guarantees not only of a trouble-free exam diet but of less hassle for teachers and pupils throughout the session, pressure for a decision to simplify mandatory requirements will mount. After all, the SQA will be faced next summer with a further venture into unchartered territory as new parts of Higher Still are implemented, especially Advanced level.
The inquiry is bound to ask whether the SQA is itself unwieldy, saddled as it is with administering so many qualifications and databanks. Yet it could not be broken up without destroying the principle that Higher Still is both vocational and academic and for all abilities, and that the panoply of qualifications starting with National Certificate and Standard grade gives coherence to lifelong learning.