More questions than answers

9th May 2008 at 01:00
The proposals for reforming the present system of courses and qualifications, announced two weeks ago, contain many interesting possibilities, but they raise an equal number of questions
The proposals for reforming the present system of courses and qualifications, announced two weeks ago, contain many interesting possibilities, but they raise an equal number of questions.

Increased time for Higher is to be welcomed and should allow for more varied approaches to teaching and learning. But Standard grade andor Intermediate, like them or not, provide a context and clear target for courses from S3. Care will be required that the criticisms of lack of challenge, valid or otherwise, often made of S1-2 are not extended to S3 and, to a lesser extent, S4.

As they stand, the proposals will put increased pressure on Higher, in that this will be the preferred option for many parents and their children. But pupils are not well served following courses at an inappropriate level: one advantage of Higher Still courses is that the different levels allow movement between, for example, Higher and Intermediate 2.

Only Access is to be retained in the proposal to remove Standard grade and Intermediate, but there will need to be a link between Access and the new general courses which, in turn, must relate to Higher; otherwise, there will be limited coherence and flexibility in the new system.

The implication, and our strong preference, is that these new general courses will be subject-based and linked to Higher.

Subject disciplines, such as history, provide a rigorous context and challenge for learning. They also play important roles in developing literacy and numeracy, among many other general skills.

The proposal for baccalaureates in sciences and languages poses the question: why just these subjects? A baccalaureate in the arts and humanities, encompassing history, would provide a strong programme of study for many S5-6 pupils and would also provide a sound preparation for higher education.

The proposals to amend assessment from S3 must ensure that public confidence is retained in any new framework for qualifications. An increased use of internal assessment could result in pupils bearing a greater assessment burden than at present. In any event, this must not be at the expense of rigorous and reliable national qualifications.

The proposals appear to overlook those pupils in S5 who will not sit Higher. A further diet of general courses does not seem an appealing alternative. A better option is to draw on the many popular, well-resourced and important topics in Standard gradeIntermediate syllabuses, which could form the basis of new courses.

It will be important in the coming weeks for teachers to respond to the proposals, as many past changes in Scottish education have been imposed on the profession. It is a sobering thought that many of today's teachers will have retired by the time these changes become operational. This places an increased responsibility on new entrants into teaching.

We hope that the removal of principal teacher posts in many subjects does not prove to have taken away vital expertise which will be needed, as when Higher Still was implemented, to ensure a fulfilling educational experience for pupils.

Peter Hillis is professor of history education at Strathclyde University

Duncan Toms is president of the Scottish Association for Teachers of History.

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