English must wait

30th June 2000 at 01:00
FOUR out of five of the new Higher courses went ahead this year, but a final verdict on the first stage of Higher Still will await the results early in August. Then the effects, if any, on pupil performance will become clear. Those on teachers' peace of mind are not similarly subject to statistical analysis.

Much of the most recent and virulent criticism centred on English and Communication, where only a fifth of schools "converted". Although ministers were until recently adamant that problems were transitory, the inevitable result of any innovation, they have now conceded that assessment and workload remain troublesome. A further year's postponement for English departments that want it is vindication of the teachers who held protest meetings and took to the correspondence columns of the press.

In a climate of open and responsive government, the Education Minister had little option but to listen to the complaints. Whether in the das of Westminster rule HMIs would have persuaded him to tough it out no one can tell.

The democratic lines of communication are much shorter now, and Sam Galbraith would not have relished defending himself before sceptical MSPs.

From the statement at the end of last week it remains unclear whether assessment procedures for English need only refining or whether there are more fundamental problems. Certainly, the Higher Still programme has not in the end proved so rushed that teething problems could not have been sorted out.

Teachers of English - in schools if not in further education - may therefore be right that the differences between school English and FE Communication are too great to be accommodated in one course and set of assessment tools. But ministers would not relish the resultant disentangling, which would also send a wrong message about Higher Still - that the academic and the vocational cannot interlink.

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