Higher Still revamp to lift fears on assessment

8th March 1996 at 00:00
The Government is to ditch the names it originally selected for the five Higher Still levels and will set up a bank of national test materials to ease teachers' concerns over assessment.

Ninety per cent of the 15,000 respondents to the Higher Still consultation document rejected Foundation, General, Credit, Higher and Advanced Higher because they are too similar to Standard grade designations and likely to confuse. Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, is instead expected to ratify Access, Intermediate 1 and 2, Higher and Advanced Higher.

Intermediate levels will dovetail with vocational qualifications south of the border and will form part of the new Scottish Group Awards.

The Government's determination to press ahead was underlined last week by Mary Pirie, chief development officer at the Higher Still development unit. Addressing the advisers' conference in Dundee (page two), Ms Pirie said: "People are concerned about delivering internal assessment but they will be able to lift the nationally agreed items and use them, or they can be adapted."

There had been fears that assessment would be carried out "item by item in a bureaucratic way", but teachers could continue to use end-of-topic tests and essays.

The decision to opt for a bank of assessment items is certain to win the backing of the Educational Institute of Scotland. The union has argued that this would "reduce the pressure on teachers and avoid the accusation made against Scotvec modules that assessment (as opposed to verification) may lack rigour". It recommended a computer network to distribute items to schools and colleges.

Ms Pirie maintained that Higher Still would not lead to the additional mixed-level teaching groups that some feared would undermine the proposals. "In almost every Higher class in the land there is more than one ability group," she observed. "We say multi-level teaching already exists and we are trying to offer tools to make it work."

Weaknesses identified by the Howie committee continued and the need for the reforms was greater than ever, she told advisers. One third of candidates last year gained no Highers and more than half just one. The adverse effects of the two-term dash to Higher continued and there was a lack of coherent vocational provision.

Yet 80 per cent of pupils now return to S5 and two-thirds of those stay on to S6.

The principles of Higher Still had been accepted by all but a few respondents. "Nobody said they did not want this, apart from a small section of independent schools," Ms Pirie said.

The feedback on particular subjects was "OK, so far, with some amendments", although plans for English were being rewritten. Revised guidelines for each subject will be issued in May.

Labour, which debates a policy document on education tomorrow (Saturday), has pledged that "if necessary" it will delay implementation of Higher Still. The party says reform must proceed in "a climate of consensus".

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