Higher Still delay sought by directors

29th November 1996 at 00:00
The Higher Still programme will have to be phased in or delayed because of rising concerns about assessment, multi-level teaching, staff development, industrial relations and resourcing, according to directors of education.

Confirmation of further local authority cutbacks announced as part of Chancellor Kenneth Clarke's Budget statement will not have enhanced the chances of the programme kicking off on time.

In the latest setback for the curriculum shake-up, due to begin in August 1998, the directors are pressing ministers to allow schools more time to reflect on the proposals. John Travers, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, who, coincidentally, is a member of the Higher Still strategy group, said there was broad agreement on the need for curriculum change.

"But it is not the only thing we are trying to do in Scottish education at the moment. We need to take teachers with us on the development and we are doing so at a time of financial cuts," Mr Travers warned.

Michael O'Neill, director of education in North Lanarkshire, who is drafting an ADES critique, said: "There is a need for phasing or further delay before the whole programme implodes rather than explodes."

Among the general criticisms is the "jagged edge status" of the 5-14 programme, the need to address significant underfunding in primaries when funds are needed for the fifth and sixth years of secondary, the impact on the still developing Standard grade courses, and the limited time available for staff development.

There are additional concerns about how the public will take to the reforms and the concept of the Scottish Group Awards. According to the directors, funding is a key issue. "We believe there are staffing implications and there will be an impact on guidance and learning support staff," Mr Travers said.

The high costs of assessment at Standard grade would have to be transferred to Higher Still, directors feel. They also query whether classroom materials will be available to support the range of courses and how far information technology in schools can cope.

The balance of internal and external assessment, weighted in favour of the former, will have workload implications because of the extra time required for marking and recording, according to Mr O'Neill's analysis. Teaching time could be lost due to the "assessment-driven nature of units and courses".

Among other concerns the directors suggest there will be difficulties with the national assessment bank of test items and worry about how internal assessment will be moderated and an "unprecedented volume of assessment data" can be managed. Internal assessment will have a cumulative burden on pupils and staff.

The directors accept that multi-level teaching can be introduced but say that levels of ability within individual classrooms must be compatible. There would have to be limits on the number of levels and size of groups.

* These and other issues will be addressed at The TES Scotland conference on Higher Still on December 9 at Murrayfield Stadium. Among the speakers are Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, and Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools. An application form is available on page 20.

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