ANOTHER opportunity to gauge the classroom temperature over Higher Still will be provided next week at the annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland in Dundee, following the 93 to 7 per cent pro-boycott vote by the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association. But that "consultative" ballot merely authorised the union's council or executive to organise another ballot recommending a boycott if its five key demands are not met.
The EIS leadership, anxious to pursue dialogue rather than industrial action, faces a number of hostile motions on Higher Still. But only one of the resolutions would force the institute's leaders to organise a ballot for a straightforward boycott. Other critical motions allow more room for manoeuvre. And the only boycott demand to have surfaced at council meetings this year was withdrawn at the last minute.
Despite classroom apprehensions, the EIS and SSTA leaderships feel they can make progress in talks with Brian Wilson, the education minister. This is likely to be the line pursued at the EIS conference by George MacBride, the union's education convener.
Mr Wilson himself said in response to the SSTA ballot result: "I am happy to discuss detailed implementation issues and recognise that, in some areas, the flow of information is not reaching the classroom. I am determined to ensure that any genuine difficulties and concerns are dealt with."
The SSTA's five concerns are that the full 160 hours of teaching should be allocated to the course, no bi-level teaching should take place without common content, teacher marking of assessment should be no greater than at present, there should be a full range of assessment instruments, and the resources should be in place before implementation.
Higher Still was among the topics discussed on Wednesday when Mr Wilson and Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State, met a select group of ten heads.
Targets were a key issue. Afterwards Mr Wilson repeated previous promises not to be "dogmatic" about targets until they were generated by more refined indicators of school characteristics. He also stressed that schools must feel "ownership" of their own targets.
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