THE Government has signalled its determination to brush aside objections and press ahead with a new level F as the pinnacle of achievement in the 5-14 curriculum.
The Education Minister has not been convinced by concern that it would skew teaching in favour of "fast-tracking" the most able pupils. Helen Liddell has also rejected arguments for postponing an additional level until 5-14 as a whole is reviewed, the key demand made by the Educational Institute of Scotland.
The Government argues that aspects of 5-14 will be subject to change from time to time anyway. The teaching of environmental studies, particularly science, is currently being reviewed.
Level F was put on the back burner by the previous government at a time when ministers were attempting to assuage teacher unrest over workload.
But Mrs Liddell is so concerned about pupils' lack of progress in the first two years of secondary that she has decided stretching the ablest must be a priority. There is also ongoing criticism in official circles over secondary schools' unwillingness to implement the 5-14 programme more quickly.
"The guidelines deal comprehensively with each of the elements of the 5-14 programme," Mrs Liddell stated. "By using these guidelines schools will be able to give their pupils a rich, varied and worthwhile experience and contribute to the action education authorities are already taking to remedy the slow progress made by some pupils in S1-S2."
Level F is intended for pupils who have reached level E before the end of secondary 2. It is defined as "attainable, in part by some pupils, and completed by a few pupils, in the course of primary 7 to secondary 2".
The importance attached to the initiative is underlined by the establishment of a national steering committee specifically for level F, under the chairmanship of Kathy Fairweather, chief inspector of schools. In its response to the consultation, the committee stresses that level F is not to be seen as a certificated course. "Many pupils will not necessarily complete level F but will work at that level," it states.
The guidelines are also at pains to stress that "while level F undoubtedly enhances pupils' learning experiences, it should not be regarded as a pre-entry requirement for Standard grade, nor part of an accelerated course".
Despite these assurances the Government is committed to a "statement of achievement" for all pupils by the end of S2, summarising how they have performed over the 5-14 stages. This was proposed by HMI in its 1997 report, Achieving Success in S1-S2, and confirmed in the Government's Targeting Excellence White Paper.
Schools will not just teach new skills and knowledge under the level F guidelines. HMI expects that pupils will also be stretched if they revisit skills and knowledge, "sometimes with different emphasis or in a new context".
The guidelines also suggest that "teachers pay particular attention to the emotional and physical maturity of pupils and their readiness to tackle certain issues and respond to teaching approaches". The consultation on level F revealed that pupils' maturity was an issue in religious education in Roman Catholic schools.
Schools will receive a support pack for level F and the Scottish Qualifications Authority is preparing test materials in reading, writing and maths for use from August.