Inspectors will be a flexible friend
Graham Donaldson, speaking at the education conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland (page five), was responding to scepticism that HMIE is not fully signed up to the Scottish Executive's agenda of a more flexible curricular and assessment regime.
Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, told the conference: "Whatever the degree of engagement of the profession for change and however much there may be consensus on the values of a less prescriptive curriculum, the fear is that this is still what inspectors will come to inspect and then report on."
Peter Peacock, Education Minister, has already signalled he will not support such an approach.
Mr Donaldson himself came to the conference to lay it on the line that inspectors will be "facilitative rather than directive, with a high degree of responsibility for teachers, schools and authorities".
He added, however: "Can I re-emphasise that we are as keen as any other player in the game to see thoughtful innovation and genuine creativity. But we must not forget that innovation also carries risk and it is the pupils who bear most of that risk. We must therefore always be measured in our approach to innovation. " Mr Donaldson said there were "some very difficult issues" to be addressed:
* How to retain subjects while promoting learning across the board.
* How to increase choice while retaining breadth.
* How to make teaching more relevant while maintaining its consistency.
* How to help pupils engage their own interests without widening the academic-vocational divide.
* How to give each pupil time and resources to meet their needs.
* How to make sure that assessment supports learning.
* How to decide on the relationship between the curriculum and external exams.
Both Mr Donaldson and Mr Peacock urged caution over the future of Standard grade. The Education Minister said that, while there would be a review, he had "no intention of being reckless or throwing the baby out with the bath water".
The aim would be to improve progression for pupils moving from Standard grade to National Qualifications.
Mr Donaldson also struck a note of caution over moves to lower the age at which pupils sit external exams. "The goal must be to provide a rich and meaningful curriculum for all pupils (which) recognises achievement and leads naturally to appropriate qualifications at the right time for each pupil.
"We must all continue to probe the educational validity and impact of early presentation of entire cohorts. That means looking at opportunity cost - what is being lost as well as what is being gained."
Mr Peacock said the Executive is preparing guidelines for schools on when younger pupils should be presented for external exams following the abolition of "age and stage" restrictions.