Please take the Higher road

18th September 1998 at 01:00
As a Treasury minister Helen Liddell wielded the big stick against insurance companies reluctant to make good the effects of mis-selling. Now she is engaged in winning hearts and minds. She cannot force teachers to implement the Higher Still programme. That would result in a union-led boycott. She has to convince them that although radical change is challenging, the results will be worth the effort.

Some extra money is going to the cause. So is a little more time for in-service preparation. In her letter to heads Mrs Liddell spells out the extent of central help with curriculum and assessment materials. But her strongest point is the fundamental one that the existing system of Highers does a disservice to many pupils now staying on. A more comprehensive range of awards is needed, although that in turn must involve teachers in more work, at least in the beginning.

The ministers must hope that a combination of extra practical help and an appeal to professional conscience will persuade teachers to cooperate. Opinion in the Educational Institute of Scotland is clearly divided about whether to proceed with a boycott ballot or to argue that the threat of one has been enough to persuade the Government to act.

The Higher Still programme will take three to five years to complete, Mrs Liddell suggests. Phasing is intended to help teachers, especially since the later changes - assessing core skills and introducing group awards - will cover new ground. But those who may be persuaded that the first new courses can indeed be got underway from next August will worry that more years of upheaval lie ahead.

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