Confidence has to be restored

25th August 2000 at 01:00
CONGRATULATIONS on your reporting of the problems of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (August 18) and especially for your measured editorial, which stood out from all the instant analyses and panic reaction in the press in the last two weeks.

In the short term, the priority is to restore confidence in the SQA and to see that none of the 150,000 candidates is adversely affected. (I write as the parent of two of them.)

With respect to the longer term, two facts begin to emerge from your reports. First, the problems do not reflect any intrinsic weaknesses of Higher Still, except in the limited sense that the scale of the reform makes it more difficult to manage.

Those who claim to have "warned that this would happen" were warning of other problems than those which caused the difficulties in issuing the results. There is undoubtedly a need to keep all aspects of Higher Still, including internal assessment, under critical scrutiny, and colleagues and I are conducting an independent study of its implementation, funded by theEconomic and Social Research Council. However, to the extent that the agenda has changed since August 10 it is the political situation that has changed, not the more inherent features of Higher Still.

Second, the need for the reform is as pressing as ever. The diagnosis that was almost universally accepted after the Howie Report is still valid. We need to provide a better curriculum for middle- and lower-attainers who stay on at 16, to improve progression opportunities, to remove the arbitrary and divisive gulf between academic and vocational learning and to extend opportunities for adults. Higher Still may or may not do all these things, but it offers a better chance of success than any other present proposed reform.

It would be a tragedy for Scottish education if the recent problems were to return us to a system that failed so many of its less advantaged students.

Professor David Raffe

Centre for Educational Sociology

Department of Education and Society

Edinburgh University Letters to the Editor

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