Eyes closed on Higher Still

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Your reports (TESS, June 19) on the Scottish Office-Convention of Scottish Local Authorities conference and the preparations for the first Scottish Qualifications Authority conference contained an inaccuracy - I am not principal teacher but assistant principal teacher of English at Queensferry High School. They also featured a number of participants' statements whose connections with reality will have escaped more than one teacher.

The two days of in-service proposed by Brian Wilson for preparation for Higher Still were decided before the Educational Institute of Scotland's boycott was agreed at its annual meeting. It is not a response to teachers' concerns. It is also risibly inadequate for its purpose - to prepare new courses with new (and questionable) methods of work for the senior school to begin in June 1999.

The "resources" referred to by the minister and others - the national assessment bank - do not represent a solution. The NAB is part of the problem. Centrally produced materials are rarely suitable for individual schools. They will be publicly available prior to their use for summative assessment nationally. The materials for English will not be available until October when teachers will already have sunk beneath the tide of Standard grade and revised Higher folios.

Meanwhile Ron Tuck's claim for the SQA "bridging that educational-vocational gap" does not stand up to historical scrutiny. The Scottish educational tradition worked on the understanding that the fundamental needs of society at all levels were best served by an intellectual-generalist tradition. Higher Still proposes to drag that tradition in the opposite direction, towards mere training.

Finally, Fred Forrester's reported statement that "fears of a Scotvec takeover have not materialised" sits uncomfortably with the most cursory look at the Higher Still arrangements in any subject. In a vocabulary as ugly as the mechanistic "thinking" it betrays, they offer the division of each subject into a set number of "units" which divide the subject into "learning outcomes" themselves divided into "performance criteria", all of which are to be "overtaken" in "summative assessments" administered and marked by the person who teaches the candidates. If that is not a Scotvec takeover of the national qualification at senior level, then I shudder to think what such a takeover might entail in Mr Forrester's eyes.

Higher Still is unworkable and educationally undesirable. There can be no dodging these facts.

Tony McManus. Buckstone Crescent. Edinburgh.

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