A joint Scottish Office and local authority conference reflected continuing worries over post-16 reforms. David Henderson reports
Students with Advanced Highers would be unlikely to by-pass the first year of university, Professor James MacCallum, a St Andrews University chemist, told the conference. Universities are likely to accept the Advanced Higher as an entrance qualification. But they would have to decide which level students entered, Professor MacCallum believed.
A reformed sixth year would be equal to half the first year course. "There is a discrepancy between the end of the Advanced Higher and the end of the first level. A student at the end of S6 with three Advanced Highers would have 60 credits in his certificate. The end of the first level at university is 120," he said.
Professor MacCallum warned against students skipping the first year. "I've seen students with advanced qualifications going straight into second year and leaving within three months. It's a morale destroying experience - they find they are drowning in an academic sea," he said.
Credit would have to be given to students with Advanced Highers. But universities were only given funding for full-year courses and it would be difficult for students to take part-year courses. And in any case many degree courses, such as philosophy, were not suitable for by-passing.
Professor MacCallum favoured group awards to prevent Scottish students narrowing their subject choice in the way A level students now do. The grade in Higher and Advanced Higher was important.
Iain Ovens, principal of Dundee College, said that Higher Still was largely about further education. Around 75,000 fifth and sixth year pupils would be affected, but between 150,000 and 180,000 in FE. Fifty-four per cent of FE students are now over the age of 25.
* The evolutionary development of Higher Still will mean even more diversity among schools and thus raise serious questions about equality of opportunity, Dr Malcolm Green, Glasgow's education convener, warned.
Universities were likely to be increasingly interested in Advanced Highers as they became available, and the opportunity to study them would become a major issue.
It was important, Dr Green said, for policy makers not to fall behind public expectation. But the decision takers would not necessarily be in control of the pace at which Higher Still was implemented.
Dr Green said: "I suspect the evolution will depend less on time and resources issues than on people's changing attitudes. More than 50 subject areas are supposed to be available at five different levels - each of them broken up into three units, separately assessed internally. When I read that, I begin to wonder how people are going to cope logistically - not only the providers but potential customers.
"I think it's absolutely inevitable it will be an evolutionary process. But because of the element of evolution, you cannot see what the end product will be or how fast you will proceed."