Guernsey may swap A levels for Highers

5th July 2013 at 01:00
Crown dependencies' say they are looking for alternatives to Westminster reforms

Young people on islands off the English coast could soon be taking Highers in place of A levels, in what would be one of the most startling endorsements of Scottish qualifications and curricular reform.

TESS has learned that education bosses in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man - which are autonomous from the UK but traditionally follow the English curriculum - are seeking alternatives, amid fears that Westminster reforms will damage young people's prospects.

Guernsey education director Alan Brown told TESS that young people there could be taking Highers by 2015-16.

Mr Brown said officials had been exploring the Scottish system seriously since December, although the process was at an early stage. They have also looked at approaches in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"When it appeared that the curriculum proposals were becoming more real, we realised that we had to explore other options that may be better," he said.

Guernsey delegations - including representatives from the primary, secondary, special and FE sectors - have twice travelled north, to meet the General Teaching Council for Scotland, Education Scotland and the Scottish government.

Mr Brown said Guernsey was considering either "mirroring" Scotland or a "pick and mix" approach of best practice from around the British Isles.

He is concerned about an English approach built upon end-of-year exams at 16 and 18. "We feel that could disadvantage a large percentage of our youngsters," he said.

As well as the broader range of assessment in Scotland, Mr Brown admires the seamless 3-18 approach espoused in Curriculum for Excellence, the "clear aims" of CfE and "the way it can be personalised".

Guernsey will decide which approach to take by the end of 2013, with a view to implementation from 2015-16.

Officials from Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man discussed options at a conference on Guernsey last month. Isle of Man education director Martin Barrow told TESS that his officials were reviewing options in light of planned changes to GCSEs and A levels.

"These include consideration of the system in place in Scotland, as well as what Wales and Northern Ireland are planning to do once their link with England disappears," he said. Mr Barrow stressed that the Isle of Man had not ruled out maintaining its link to the English system. A final decision will be made by summer 2014.

A spokeswoman for Jersey's education department said that concerns about English reforms had prompted officials to look at Scotland, but that the process was less advanced than in Guernsey.

School Leaders Scotland general secretary Ken Cunningham has been involved in discussions with Isle of Man officials, and said the interest from the crown dependencies was "a real endorsement of how our qualifications have developed, and are developing".

A Scottish government spokeswoman said "very productive discussions" about Curriculum for Excellence had been held with Guernsey. Officials will "continue to share their experience with counterparts in Guernsey and beyond".

She added: "We share the view that having a qualification system which supports deeper learning and skills development is more effective."

A spokeswoman for Westminster's Department for Education said: "Our reforms will enhance A levels and GCSEs to better prepare students for higher education. Linear exams will end an over-reliance on resits so all pupils develop a real understanding of a subject."


There are two crown dependencies: the Channel Islands (Guernsey and Jersey) and the Isle of Man. They are self-governing but belong to the English Crown. They do not form part of the UK, although the UK is responsible for certain policy areas. Schools on the crown dependencies - each of which has a population of fewer than 100,000 - usually follow the English curriculum.

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