Taking five is still an option

3rd August 2001 at 01:00
I hope you will allow me to correct the somewhat misleading headline on your report of our survey of parents' views on Higher Still. We do not advocate that school pupils should take only four subjects in fifth year but we do say that this is one possible solution to the problem of assessment overload.

As your actual report states, our survey showed that parents of youngsters taking five Highers believed the volume of internal assessment to be stressful in contrast to the view of the parents of youngsters who took less than five subjects.

We then suggested that there were two logical ways to resolve assessment overload: the first was to limit the number of subjects taken in fifth year to four and the other was to reduce the amount of internal assessment for those with the greatest burden.

We did not recommend the four Highers solution. Rather, we concluded that "volume matters and that if Higher Still is really about providing opportunity for all, then different solutions have to be found to meet the different needs of different groups of students".

In this we echo the report that Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, presented to the Scottish Parliament at the end of last session. This proposes that immediate action be taken to trim the amount of internal assessment but that, longer term,two more radical options should be considered.

Option A proposes "candidates could achieve a course award by success in the external assess-ment . . . which would enable a reduction in internal assessment for candidates who did not wish to acquire unit certification." Option B proposed that "candidates could achieve an ungraded course award by demonstrating they had achieved the full range of unit learning outcomes with an optional external examination".

These options are not mutually exclusive and both could be adopted. This would offer flexibility and recognise that different groups have different needs. It would respond to parents' concerns by reducing the assessment overload for those with the greatest burden while protecting the interests of those who need a more measured approach to the course award.

Judith Gillespie Development Manager

Scottish Parent Teacher Council

63-65 Shandwick Place, Edinburgh

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