Higher Still's balance sheet

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
In reference to the article by Neil Munro (TESS, February 23), the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland is committed to the findings of the national investigation into the experience of Higher Still assessment in schools and colleges. It is available on the HMI website and I commend it to your readers.

The report did reinforce the success of schools and colleges in implementing assessment arrangements despite overwhelming odds such as poor data management, late guidance on exam details and confusion over the national assessment bank.

The report also found that there was considerable support for internal assessment, particularly as a motivating factor.

It is misleading to represent this strong support for the retention of formal internal assessment as contradicting my view to the parliamentary education committee's inquiry that Higher Still was a failure in implementation. Certainly it will come as a considerable surprise to students and parents in Scotland and, particularly to teachers, to suggest that everything was fine until August.

Indeed the report itself in the section on areas for further consideration has an insightful list for further consideration. This includes:

* A need for a reduction in the amount of internal assessment.

* Clarification of the purposes of internal assessment.

* Clarification of the relaionship between internal unit and external course assessment.

* Greater consistency across subjects.

* Efficient and effective use of internal unit assessments .

* Simplified data-handling.

* Assessment arrangements which cater for the needs of all students.

In summary, there was no overall assessment policy. There was no consistency among subjects. Materials were late in some subjects. There was confusion regarding the use of national assessment banks.

The data handling was so overblown and complex, a direct function of the design of Higher Still, that Scottish Qualifications Authority credibility disappeared. Students received authorised profiles of their core skills which were entirely inaccurate. The part of the national qualification system that had credibility, ie Highers, has been badly damaged.

It is essential, however, that the many admirable features of Higher Still policy are not lost as a consequence of implementation difficulties. Thus ADES support for this balanced report. The implementation of Higher Still in 2000 was far from a success. I believe it was a failure.

Gordon Jeyes General secretary Association of Directors of Education in Scotland Stirling PS: You report that many of the problems were due to poor communication. The report states that some of the problems were due to poor communication.

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