Exam proposals split unions, as Hyslop plays for time

28th March 2008 at 00:00
Plans by the Education Secretary to introduce literacy and numeracy tests for all pupils in the December of S4, revealed last week by The TESS, have split Scotland's main teaching unions.

Simon Macaulay, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, which opposed separate literacy and numeracy tests when they were first mooted by Jack McConnell as First Minister, reiterated that the union was against the idea: "We don't feel they will offer anything to the exam system."

However, David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the literacy and numeracy tests were "not a bad idea", as they would provide pupils with proof that they had the basic skills.

"But they must not become something to batter pupils about the head with, and there is the danger of teachers having to work to the test. Rather than that, literacy and numeracy should underpin the curriculum anyway," he said.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop's proposals for a package of reforms to Scotland's qualifications system would effectively introduce the concept of a single external exit exam for school leavers. She plans to replace Standard grades and Intermediate 1s and 2s with a new unit-based qualification, aimed at those who cannot or do not wish to take a given subject at Higher.

Pupils wishing to study Highers would be offered the choice of doing them over 12, 18 or 24 months.

The EIS is still thirled to the retention of Standard grade, mainly on the basis that it provides a safety net for pupils leaving school at the end of S4 and is well understood by pupils, teachers and employers.

Any replacement qualification must make sense to the teaching profession, Mr Macaulay said.

Mr Eaglesham signalled concerns about the exam reforms, particularly over the prospect of a single external exam being introduced.

"Anybody advocating that does not understand kids and the complex psychology of the mid-teenager," he said, warning that the removal of progression from one set of exams to another could signal a return to the junior secondary philosophy of past years.

Brian Cooklin, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said he was anxious to see more detail of Ms Hyslop's proposals - expected to be made public in mid-April. He was also concerned that there might be timetabling and organisational ramifications.

Offering pupils the opportunity to do Highers over different periods of time might, he said, meant Scottish schools would have to adopt a model which operates in some schools in England, where pupils are organised in house groups by ability rather than year groups. That model could motivate some pupils, but demotivate others if they resented working with younger pupils.

David Cameron, vice-president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said any changes to the qualifications system would have to be manageable, bring benefits to young people and not be unduly disruptive.

Ken Macintosh, Labour's shadow schools spokesperson, sounded a note of caution, pointing out that the National Qualifications introduced under Higher Still were relatively new. "The danger here is running before we can walk," he said.

But he gave his full backing to literacy and numeracy tests. "Whatever you want to do about being good citizens and confident learners, you still have to read and write," he said.

Ms Hyslop declined to comment on The TESS's report of her plans, but said: "I am considering what changes are needed to the Standard grade and Intermediate 1 and 2 qualifications, and will announce details in the next few weeks.

"Higher qualifications will continue to be the gold standard of Scottish education, and we will look at how we can influence the system to ensure that the two-term dash is not the only route for young people. Flexibility will be key."

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