COLLEGES are not yet able to offer the full range of Higher Still National Qualifications because they are still waiting for some basic materials.
A study carried out by the Scottish Further Education Unit found that colleges had scaled down plans for last session, although they now aim gradually to replace National Certificates and General Scottish Vocational Qualifications with the new courses and Scottish Group Awards (SGAs).
Colleges were reluctant to press ahead last session because they lacked essential information about assessment of project-based courses as well as teaching materials for them, and they were not convinced that the National Assessment Bank items (NABs) would arrive on time.
The SFEU report says that experience of the subjects that did introduce the new qualifications was mixed. "A number saw the SGAs as more coherent and relevant to employers, while others saw the same awards as too demanding.
"Others felt that the benefits of new Higher courses served as a boost to their subject and gave them a status not enjoyed previously, whereas other subjects in the same situation felt that the Higher course was not at the appropriate level for further progression in that subject."
Colleges praise the greater range of qualifications under Higher Still and the better learning opportunities it provides. One college, for instance, reports that more students are staying the course. One factor cited is that weaker ones can switch from Intermediate 2 to Intermediate 1 level early on which prevents learning problems building up.
But major reservations emerged, particularly problems facing students as they move up from NQs to Higher National certificates and diplomas and to degree courses. Progression into HN programmes requires something more demanding than Intermediate 2 group awards and less demanding than Highers, the colleges say.
They also accuse higher education institutions of adopting inconsistent approaches to the new qualifications. Some will accept students with an Intermediate 2 group award for degree courses. Others will only take them on diploma courses.