'Last gasp' rescue for new exams

4th December 1998 at 00:00
The new Higher Still liaison group will have to make major decisions by Christmas, reports David Henderson

THE Higher Still liaison group, set up to defuse the Educational Institute of Scotland boycott and resolve the phasing of subjects, will have to take major decisions before Christmas if schools are to plan courses for next summer.

Nigel Lawrie, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, warned that even postponing decisions until January would be the "last gasp saloon". Some schools say that is too late.

The group met on Wednesday ahead of a meeting today (Friday) of the EIS executive council which is expected to ratify a suspension of the boycott.

Dr Lawrie said: "There are just 23 weeks until June and the start of new courses. Some schools might go for minimal change because of the pressures," he said.

Helen Liddell, the Education Minister, last week underlined her determination to press ahead with a staggered start. "We are determined to press forward and we will rely on your practical support in that process," Mrs Liddell told directors of education.

The Scottish Office-led liaison group, now without direct political representation, will quickly have to approve local implementation plans. Schemes will also have to be approved by teaching unions and councils at local level.

Some subjects, like English and art and design, are likely to be postponed for another year, while other subjects go ahead at levels determined by schools. Some will want Intermediate before Higher.

Ministers will be able to claim a start for the programme and buy time to iron out further difficulties. A confidential Scottish Office analysis of syllabus changes at Higher level obtained by The TES Scotland (below) shows "significant" or "major changes" in only 11 out of 32 subjects.

* The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association has backed a boycott of Higher Still. On a 59 per cent turnout, 2,945 (78 per cent) voted for and 825 (22 per cent) against. The union is to press issues related to funding, timing and involvement of classroom teachers through the liaison group.

TWO IN THREE SUBJECTS ESCAPE RADICAL UPHEAVAL.

MAJOR CHANGE GREATER THAN 20%

Computing Studies (Computing)

About 20 per cent of the core work on systems is new or changed. About 40 per cent of the work on software development is new or different. These are both compulsory aspects. Students can choose from four additional options: Computer Program is about 10 per cent new content; Artificial Intelligence about 30 per cent new content; Computer Networking about 40 per cent new content; Multimedia Technology is completely new.

Secretarial Studies (Administration)

Some schools will have experience of existing National Certificate modules on which Higher Still units are based but for those teaching Higher secretarial studies the change is significant. It involves major change in both curriculum content and in a move to a problem-solving approach. The Administrative Services unit contains new work in planning, organising and monitoring work; developing, implementing and maintaining procedures and introducing new procedures; organising, supporting and recording meetings and writing action minutes. The Information Technology for Management Double unit uses business software to solve administrative problems. It involves the teaching of databases, spreadsheets and word-processing and their interaction. Currently only word-processing is required at Higher.

SIGNIFICANT 16%-20%

Accounting and Finance

Significant new content in more spreadsheet work in management accounting, enhancing the IT element. Also rescheduling to compensate for movement of some costing elements into Intermediate 2.

Art and Design

Significant change in replacing critical evaluation and historical studies by an Art and Design Studies unit which requires students undertaking a course award to relate their work in this unit to the work they do in their practical design and expressive units. A contemporary context must be studied within the Art and Design Studies unit. Other aspects of the syllabus, which are already likely to be included in existing Higher courses, have now become clearly defined as course requirements. These are: evidence of first-hand observational drawing; at least two types of media; a three-dimensional media; and use of technology.

Chemistry

Numerous deletions from existing Higher to make space for new content. This has allowed the introduction of eight new topics.

English (English and Communication) Students must take a half-unit option from individual oral presentation; group discussion; or critical listening. Students must also take one of three specialist study options, each worth half a unit. Of these, the literature unit is not new and new syllabus content will only be involved if schools choose to select from Language and Oral Communication.

Home Economics (Fashion and Textile Technology)

New content includes technology of textile property; historical perspectives on the textile and clothing industry; current production system; technological innovation in the clothing and textile industry. Manufacturers' responses to consumer requirements are covered in greater depth in the new syllabus.

Modern Studies

Changes to give greater emphasis to the Scottish political system and to reflect changes due to the Scottish parliament. These changes would have been made to existing Higher.

Physical Education

Changes including restructuring of analysis of performance and introduction of performance appreciation.

Physics

A "few small" additional items.

Religious Studies (Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies)

Changes to wording as part of the updating to take account of contemporary issues. There is a new optional unit of language, philosophy and religion which would amount to a change of about 20 per cent if schools choose to take it. However, this is optional and the migration to the new Higher constitutes very little change in content.

MINOR 6%-10%

Classical Studies

Minor change in the study of social aspects of the Classical World, Classical Drama.

Home Economics (Lifestyle and Consumer Technology)

Minor changes include: greater depth in the study of product development, using food and textile resources. Socio-economic factors affecting lifestyle and consumer choice of goods and services are covered in more depth. Responsibility for parenthood is a new area. Responsibilities of individuals in the community to support the needs of the elderly and those with special requirements are also covered.

Management and Information Studies (Business Management)

Minor changes are involved in the Business Enterprise Unit which now includes new work on the importance of business activity in society. In the Business Decision Areas unit there is new work on finance - cashflow; marketing - target markets; and human resource management -the changing pattern of employment.

Technological Studies

Basic STAMP introduced to reflect changes in control technology and to take account of obsolescence of BBC computer and 6502 micro-processor.

NONE OR MINIMAL 0%-5%

Biology

Syllabus unchanged. There are one or two new suggested learning activities but these are not compulsory.

Classical Greek

No change.

Craft and Design

No additional content but new Higher includes externally assessed design assignment.

Drama

No changes but some adjustments to assessment weightings and requirements.

Economics

Minor adjustments to introduce work on the operation of markets, international trade and payments and the international economic environment. These topics are not completely new but refocus on existing areas.

Gaelic

Adjustments to the external assessment but no significant changes.

Gaidhlig

Minor reorganisations.

Geography

No change but an increased emphasis on geographical methods and techniques which departments are already covering.

Geology

Minor change. The study of geological history in Britain has been reduced and a choice element removed. The balance between detailed study and more general study has been slightly adjusted.

Graphic Communication

Minor changes, reflecting improved software in computer illustration and presentation.

History

Course can be completed using options from the existing Higher syllabus. There are new options but these are not compulsory.

Home Economics (Health and Food Technology)

Minor change. Aspects of food product development, including manufacturers' response to consumers, are covered in more depth.

Human Biology

No change. One or two new suggested learning activities but these are not compulsory.

Latin

No change.

Mathematics

No change providing schools choose to take units 1, 2 and 3. If the statistics unit is substituted for unit 3, this constitutes one-third new content material. However, the statistics unit is optional and the schools wishing minimal change would continue to prepare for units 1, 2 and 3.

Modern Languages: French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish

These courses are organised around thematic topics commonly studied in schools. Many schools will already be issuing these topics which means no change. Where topics of study are new to schools, syllabus content change may be up to 5 per cent. Choosing new options in one course unit involves new syllabus material but these are optional and not compulsory.

Music

Minor change if schools continue to offer the core unit of the course together with the optional units which reflect current Higher provision. However, if new optional units in accompanying, midi and sound engineering are selected then proportions of new syllabus content rise.

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