If the Education Secretary thought her flagship reforms of national qualifications would be launched into calm waters, she will be disabused today by the reactions of our specially assembled jury (p4-5). The jury may be out on some aspects of her "next generation" qualifications, but it is already hardening significantly on others.
Few will quarrel with Fiona Hyslop's guiding principles - assessment should support and motivate learning, literacy and numeracy must have a sharper focus, the complex co-existence of Standard grade and Intermediate awards cannot continue, there should be a range of opportunities in the curriculum, and better preparation for Highers is essential.
But, as Janet Brown of the Scottish Qualifications Authority notes, there are pluses and minuses in almost every one of the proposals. The focus, to date, has been on the planned abolition of Standard grade, rightly since it has the biggest implications. But, interestingly, there is also growing concern about the fate of the S1-3 stages, which might well become an expanded version of the S1-2 "marking time" problem.
There is a conundrum at the heart of the plans, which appears to confuse assessment and qualifications. The genesis of the proposals lies in the consensus that there is too much assessment in the upper secondary school. Yet, we are going to have a new qualification which will be based on internal and possibly external assessment, two new certificates in literacy and numeracy assessed on the evidence of pupils' work and an exam, a winter diet of exams and a baccalaureate covering the sciences and languages at HigherAdvanced Higher levels. And that's not counting the 15 unit assessments, five prelims and five external exams facing the typical S5 pupil sitting five Highers. Clearly, streamlining qualifications is not going to de-clutter the crowded landscape of assessment.
As we observed when we revealed these proposals exclusively in our March 21 issue, the debate has barely started.