Summer of discontent

16th June 2000 at 01:00
David Henderson and Neil Munro open a two-page report from the

Educational Institute of Scotland's Dundee conference, which saw growing disillusion from nursery to Higher Still.

SIMMERING discontent with the implementation of Higher Still and the extra workload on secondary members led to the only significant conference defeat for union leaders. But a second critical vote on ditching internal assessment at Higher level was safely negotiated. It would have dealt a body blow to the post-16 reforms.

A raft of anti-Higher Still motions left EIS leaders facing a possible ballot of secondary members on boycotting new developments until the upper school reforms are fully embedded. The left-wing victory was achieved by a mere two votes - 152 to 150.

It will now be up to the executive council to decide whether the ballot can go ahead following the instruction.

In contrast, moves to ballot on boycotting internal assessment at Higher were defeated by 221 to 167 votes.

Members expressed profound dissatisfaction with the burden of assessment on teachers and pupils that was distorting classroom work, the extra work involved in running new courses and exams, and the failings of Higher Still planners to deliver on time. Many courses were still not ready and many materials not available or short of expected standards. Training was still inadequate.

Allan Green, from East Dunbartonshire, illustrating the demands, said: "If you're a student doing two business education subjects, which is not unusual, the basic bottom line is 20-plus internal assessments. What we have to look at iswhat this does to the quality of learning and teaching. This is changing Higher teaching into grinding students through a sausage-factory education."

He added: "We used to be told Higher was a two-session dash. It's now a two-week dash into your first assessment."

Hamish Glen, of North Lanarkshire, said unit assessments had fundamentally altered what was happening at Higher, with pupils told as early as November in the first term of S5 they might not make it. Remediation and reassessment only took up more time.

Pupils taking five Highers were faced with at least 15 assessments over the year but middle of the road pupils, who went through reassessments, could face up to 30. "We're starting to cut into teaching time very, very badly," Mr Glen said.

Too much emphasis was placed on internal assessment. "I think if a pupil passes the final exam, then even if they've failed a unit assessment, they have done enough to show they've covered the course and understand what is there," he said.

Andrew McGeever, from Edinburgh, said that internal assessment was absorbing four to five weeks of teaching, while Ian McCrone, of Renfrewshire, said the sight of pupils leaving this year's Higher maths exam in tears showed the reforms were still not ready. "It still needs to be fixed," he said.

There was a genuine will to make Higher Still work, despite the problems, according to Margaret Nicol, union president and a member of the national Higher Still liaison committee. Unfortunately, HM Inspectors still insisted "everything was OK and that children like internal assessment".

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