Getting back on the map;Higher Still;Curriculum

5th January 1996 at 00:00
TESS staff conclude the subject-by-subject series on Higher Still with the classics and Gaelic

The two Higher Still reports on the classics - Latin and classical Greek; and classical studies - give teachers new hope for a subject area which for years has seemed doomed to constant diminution and possible extinction. "The Higher Still proposals put us back on the map," says June Orr, head of the department at Cleveden Secondary in Glasgow.

There is welcome, too, for innovative ideas, especially in classical studies, which offer students insight into Greek and Roman civilisation without detailed study of the languages. The recognition for the first time of archaeology as a school subject in Scotland is particularly praised.

The excitement of John Kerr, assistant head and classics teacher at Lanark Grammar, is tempered with questions about the practical side of archaeological study. He hopes that military sites, which predominate among Roman remains in Scotland and northern England, will not be the only ones considered, although even York,much less Colchester or Bath, will pose problems for Scottish pupils to visit.

Kate Thomson at Glasgow High is also attracted to possible studies in archaeology and philosophy, but like teachers in local authority schools, she has concerns over the language proposals. In order to achieve success at any of the levels, will pupils have to pass all units? "If they have to pass the translation unit, some of them might be stuck." At present pupils could compensate in other questions for weaknesses in translation.

Classics departments are small, often with one teacher. Mrs Thomson is concerned about how preparation for Higher Still can be combined with class teaching. Who will cover during an in-service day? There ought to be centrally-produced materials since single-teacher departments will struggle to create their own.

Even more than with other subjects there is deep concern about how pupils at several different levels - and in different subject areas - can be taught in a single class.

Dr Kerr wonders how a Higher Still teacher can work at the same time with candidates for Higher Latin, Higher Greek and classical studies.

The strongest criticism, however, is reserved for the suggestion, included among the questions for consultation, that some units at levels such as General and Credit will be internally assessed only, with no overall course award. The response by the Educational Institute of Scotland is dismissive: "Externally assessed courses will be the identifying feature of Higher Still and any subject area which substantially departs from this model is likely to suffer a prestige deficit." Mrs Thomson is more succinct: "The idea should be thrown out."

Classics teachers are keen to find ways of increasing interest in their subject - they want to know more about the intended group awards available through the National Certificate. At present the proposals are "very vague", Dr Kerr says.

Mrs Orr points to the popularity of classical studies in further education and sees future expansion in adult education. But before expressing a view on the practicality of Higher Still in these areas, all teachers want to know more about how group awards will work in the humanities and especially in terms of combined ancient and modern language studies.

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