THE SMOOTH introduction of the Higher Still reforms hung on a knife-edge this week as union leaders digested further significant concessions from the Education Minister.
Helen Liddell's latest move to placate teachers was outlined in a letter to the Educational Institute of Scotland. Some subjects in some schools will now be allowed to phase in the new Higher courses during next session, as forecast in The TES Scotland on October 9.
The result of the ballot of 23,000 EIS secondary teachers and lecturers is expected none the less to deliver resounding support for a boycott of the post-16 changes.
The EIS warned that "phasing in itself cannot be a solution" unless teachers are fully trained and schools properly resourced, but said the announcement was "an important step in the right direction".
The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, which will release the result of its ballot on December 1, said the move "could form the basis of a solution".
The EIS's finance and general purposes committee will meet today (Friday) to consider what advice to give the union's crucial executive council meeting on November 20. The SSTA's executive also meets today to discuss Mrs Liddell's statement.
It was a key union complaint that some subjects are not ready to make the change to the new Higher next August. Mrs Liddell's agreement that the replacement could be put back to August 2000 is in addition to the phasing already agreed for the other Higher Still courses - Access, Intermediate and Advanced Higher - which are to be gradually introduced over five years.
Mrs Liddell also agreed to another of union's proposals and will set up a national liaison group to oversee the phasing, under the convenership of Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector. It will comprise two members from the EIS and one from the SSTA as well as representatives of the local authorities, further education and parents.
Mrs Liddell insisted: "The only justification for further phasing will be explicit proof that exceptional difficulties exist in a specific subject or in named schools."
She has also agreed that extra Scottish Office cash for Higher Still will be allocated on the basis of secondary teacher numbers and not competitive bids. Detailed subject-by-subject guidance is also to be issued on bi-level teaching.