It may take from three to five years

21st August 1998 at 01:00
Tension rises as classrooms count down to August 1999.

Whether there is an official Higher Still timetable or not, education authorities have their own. Officials contacted by The TES Scotland this week are gearing themselves to an implementation period of three to five years.

The priority for all is to replace the existing Higher course with the new courses and units at that level, followed by the Intermediate 2 programme intended for pupils who do not quite make the grade at Higher.

Although the changes are planned to be introduced from August 1999, there are earlier deadlines. Timetablers will have to start knocking next session into shape from the end of this year. At the very least schools will need to have the new Highers ready from next June when most schools begin fifth and sixth-year programmes for the following session.

Even without the threat of a teachers' boycott from the unions, it will be a close run thing. Although the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the Higher Still Development Unit and the education authorities have stepped up a gear in getting materials and training to the class teacher, schools are only now beginning to see the results.

Some subjects will have to run faster than others. The SQA material from the national item bank which will support the internal unit assessments for the new Highers started arriving in schools in the week beginning June 15, just as teachers were getting ready to pack their bags. These were for Higher drama and physics only, with another nine subjects arriving in the last week of term. Back-up for a further 10 Higher subjects arrived during the holidays and the final 10 subjects are not due to receive their assessment support until the first week in September.

The HSDU, which has responsibility for the teaching materials, sent out 68 packages to schools this week and is due to issue 30-40 more in early September. Much of the delay has been caused by copyright difficulties in obtaining permission to create electronic versions of the material, Mary Pirie, the unit's chief officer, says.

The delays facing Higher English are even more fraught as the assessment bank materials are unlikely to appear before October. This had a welcome cause - the previous Education Minister's decision to cut down the amount of assessment in the subject. English is also the least happy part of Higher Still with some teachers in revolt at what they regard as an attempt to turn it from a literary into a vocational subject.

Education officers with responsibility for Higher Still have more prosaic concerns, however, trying to turn all this material into sensible training sessions for teachers. All local authorities are likely to take advantage of the Scottish Office offer of two school closure days this session so teachers can concentrate on preparing. This time is additional to the normal five local in-service days and the national seminars for senior management and principal teachers which begin again in October.

Other authorities will be creative. Edinburgh, for example, will plough some of the new deal money made available in the budget to provide cover so teachers can be released, amounting to two days for every secondary teacher and one extra day for each teacher in special schools.

The state of readiness in implementing Higher Still varies from department to department. "Some subjects are ready now but some are not," Chris Shirley, Argyll's quality standards manager, says. "But generally speaking, I would give a guarded yes to the question of whether schools will be ready - provided you are talking simply about replacing the existing Higher as a minimum in the first year rather than implementation of the full programme."

Dundee, in common with many other authorities, is advising its secondary schools to translate their existing provision into HIgher Still. That will mean Intermediate 2 as well as Higher courses, but Glen Taylor, the council's education services manager, says schools are free to do more if they wish.

"There is undoubtedly concern among teachers at present," Mr Taylor concedes. "The cascade method of training from principal teachers down to their departments is problematic and teachers are only now beginning to see the actual material which will support their teaching."

Jim Stafford, East Ayrshire's Higher Still co-ordinator, describes the present situation as "a phoney war" in the absence of clearly defined resources and the late arrival of materials. "Teachers are confident but apprehensive," Mr Stafford says. "They are sure they can deliver but worry whether they will have the wherewithal to do it properly."

David Cameron, education manager with Fife Council, says even schools that do not face a major transition will have to step up a gear to ensure class teachers are well prepared. The authority plans to use two of its normal in-service days, the first for subject-based training and the second for guidance and cross-subject issues.

Gordon Brown, curriculum officer in East Lothian, believes schools will be on track if they stick to their development plans. A timetabling and curriculum analysis of the authority's six secondaries had not shown any major problems.

Richard Barron, Glasgow's senior education officer and a former secondary head, said he would expect schools to have "the bones of the Higher Still timetabling structures in place by Christmas".

The city's schools are being encouraged to switch to the new Higher and Intermediate 2. Specific work is being done in areas requiring particular support such as English.

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