Freely given by the prison service

5th December 1997 at 00:00
It has always struck me as supremely ironic that the one set of resources freely available for teachers of communication modules in schools came from the Scottish Prison Service for the benefit of the inmates of Glenochil and Barlinnie.

A further puzzle is that most of thee acknowledgements seem to be to authorities in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, but if the writing team managed an exotic awayday on the strength of it, good luck to them.

Closer to home, the long-promised exemplar materials and assessment item banks for Higher Still seem to be the educational equivalent of direct trains to Europe - long promised but never quite seen. The recent rebellion of Edinburgh English teachers buoyed me up, although I was pleased that the speaker on Higher Still "retained her dignity" in the face of what my third-year would call "gi'en her growlers". Pinning down representatives of the impending changes is like picking up mercury. When schools complain about proposals, further education is reported as overwhelmingly in favour.

If Glasgow teachers murmur dissent, they are assured that colleagues elsewhere are firmly on track for painless change. It's like a card game where only the opponent holds cards.

I guess that the assessment of talk at Higher would be prominent on the list of grievances of the mutinous principal teachers. No one has ever reviewed the efficiency of assessing talk at Standard grade. I don't mean the moderation exercise where teachers allocate grades to SQA tapes, but instead a survey of it as a classroom exercise - how time consuming it is, how unrealistic with no team-teaching, the time that is wasted by a teacher monitoring group discussion while the remainder of the class - being both teenage and human - are "doing other work".

Teachers don't want to see this shambles repeated in fifth year, and the panel who are insisting on such an extension are deaf to their anxiety.

Twenty years ago I remember defending the Higher English literature paper against an academic who was upset at "modern students not knowing the canon", by pointing out that three essays of Elia, Macbeth, and Tam o'Shanter, which represented a previous generation's minimalist approach to Higher English, was not better, only different.

The revolting Edinburgh English principals are also complaining about the Higher being "Scotvecicised", and a diet of communication exercises about healthy eating, heroin addiction, smoking and obesity is even less likely to assuage the universities' fears, if talk and a Prison Service agenda drive literature to a yet more beleaguered position.

When I tried to elicit a potential course from one of my university entrance candidates last month, the girl said - not wholly facetiously - "something to do with hairdressing and the law". My mind ran to litigation on stress-induced baldness for middle-aged teachers.

In my daftest hours I admit to fantasies about evading Higher Still. Misappropriation of chalk and elderly Gestetner skins would lead to shameful arrest, trial and the ignominy of a prison sentence.

Worse than all, however, would be the first day when the prison education officer brightly announced "Open your Communication Module guide at page 122. Today is group discussion about Jimmy Boyle and the Scottish Prison Service".

How long, O Lord, how long?

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