Higher still hits awall of cutbacks

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Education authority leaders have added their voice to demands for another year's delay to the Higher Still programme, lining up behind secondary heads and the unions.

The decision, taken at the education forum of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities last Friday, will be pressed home when a delegation meets the Education Minister on March 10. It had the backing of the three main opposition parties.

Elizabeth Maginnis, Cosla's education spokesperson, said: "We cannot continue to live with a system which disadvantages two-thirds of our pupils and prevents them from achieving a satisfactory upper secondary school qualification. "

Mrs Maginnis, Edinburgh's education chair, added: "But the key issue for us is that we are supposed to be implementing a new national examination next year and none of us believes we can do it."

Malcolm Green, her Glasgow counterpart, declared: "We can't deliver this programme effectively at present." Dr Green, a member of the incoming Scottish Qualifications Authority, believes he was given an assurance at SQA's first meeting last week that no contracts would be signed to hire markers and examiners before late summer. That would allow an incoming government to review the programme and the time-scale.

Mrs Maginnis said none of the Labour councils had budgeted for an investment in Higher Still, but all were planning cuts in in-service training. "We are clearly not in a state of readiness to implement what is a necessary and essential but major national reform," she said.

Councillors were influenced by a paper from the Association of Directors of Education which stated: "A failure to accept and recognise the reality of major issues such as multi-level teaching, assessment, staff development, resources and time-scale will lead to a belief that the development programme has lost touch with the profession."

Michael O'Neill, director of education in North Lanarkshire, likened the breakneck pace of the changes to the Hollywood film where a group of hijackers threatens to blow up a bus if its speed falls below 50 miles an hour.

A longer time-scale would help teachers to "absorb and internalise all the guidelines, support packages and revised structures that are going to be introduced". Mr O'Neill claimed the real state of staff readiness was "very low" because planned activity time was limited and in-service days few.

He suggested that an alternative to postponement would be a phased introduction, leaving changes to the existing Higher until later and introducing the pre-Higher Intermediate I and II levels first.

But the politicians rejected such a move which Mrs Maginnis said would lead to the entire programme being "shrouded in confusion and mystery with nobody understanding what we were trying to do. If Higher Still is going to be successful, it will have to be fully understood and fully resourced."

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