SCHOOL managers are as much to blame as their political masters for ignoring the concerns of English departments over the Higher Still reforms, the programme's most unrelenting critics say.
The second annual conference of the campaigning Scottish Association of Teachers of Language and Literature also renewed its barrage of criticism directed at the Inspectorate and the Higher Still Development Unit.
Tony McManus, the Edinburgh English teacher who chairs the association, said it deserved credit for giving internal assessment a higher profile in the public debate on the future of Scotland's schools. "We have infiltrated the education system. The establishment are having difficulty with English but do not want to admit defeat," Mr McManus said.
He rejected any halfway house on internal assessment. "Compromise is not enough, the whole thing must go."
During a debate on a motion which "regretted the degrading of the role of HMI from safeguarding and nurturing the education system to merely enforcing Government policy regardless of educational value", Mr McManus described inspectors as "a despicable and contemptible group who are doing damage not only to English but to education as a whole".
Susa Kearns of St Andrew's High in Paisley was one of a number of teachers who mauled the quality of the in-service course provided by the development unit. "Every course is about assessment and not about how to teach talking and listening skills. Teachers have no idea how to approach the teaching of critical listening," she said.
Deborah Nelken, a principal English teacher at an Edinburgh school, said the tutor at one in-service session had described as "useless" some of the interpretation sections of the national assessment banks. "He said that they should never have been published and advised us not to use them."
Jane Burns, head of English at Bannerman High in Glasgow, said: "The pressures on senior management from councils, HMI and parents are such that teachers are being sidelined and ignored. People should stop saying they are listening and do something. This is not just a local issue."
The meeting rejected a motion calling for a joint conference with the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers after some delegates warned against the "politicisation" of their campaign, and instead agreed to organise a national conference to which other organisations including the SFST would be invited.