The HSDU has failed

4th December 1998 at 00:00
HELEN LIDDELL'S assertion that Higher Still has been the best supported development in education is difficult to disagree with when analysed in terms of the number of consultation exercises, training days and documents delivered to senior and middle managers in educational establishments.

There is, however, a schism developing in education between managing bodies (HSDUSQASOEID) and teachers who must, by necessity, interpret the demands of management in a pragmatic and feasible way. This schism is entirely due to an inability of development bodies to apply quality assurance principles to their activities. A reasonable interpretation of "quality assurance" would require that a supplier meets the needs of a client group to a reasonably high standard.

The Higher Still Development Unit has a variety of stakeholders whose expectations vary greatly. The remit of the HSDU was to deliver an appropriate framework for upper school education. A framework has been delivered, augmented with subject guides and advice. To this end, the HSDU has met the needs of the Scottish Office.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority rightly demands assurances that consistency, coherence and validity resulted, hence the use of performance criteria to ensure a minimum specification for each unit of work. For subjects where unitinternal assessments only are required, then the HSDU has also succeeded.

If, however, consideration is given to subjects that must have additional course assessment to satisfy the requirements of the SQA for estimates and appeals, then the HSDU has failed for reasons outlined below.

Course assessment for the purposes of estimates and appeals requires the use of benchmarking, concordance and exam analysis to ensure that the external element of Higher Still is satisfied. These methods can only be validated when compared with performance over a few years of a reasonably large in-school cohort with national results. For a new examination, this is not possible. The production of validated assessments by the SQA or HSDU has not been forthcoming and we now look forward with trepidation to the initial years.

As stakeholders, teachers expected the consultation phase would help shape developments into a form which could be reasonably translated into an effective and enjoyable classroom experience for pupils. The inability to deliver 160 hours (at five periods per week) and the inappropriate nature of the late arrival of support materials dictates that, if teachers are to be classed as being intrinsic to the quality loop, the HSDU has failed.

Finally, the largest cohort of stakeholders who will be affected by Higher Still are the pupils. At no time have they been systematically consulted. How can education pretend to have met the needs of pupils when they have not been part of the quality loop?

Paul Cochrane

Principal teacher of chemistry

Wellington Academy, Greenock

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