Thumbs-up for Higher Still assessment

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
The long-awaited HMI investigation into the internal assessment of Higher Still courses bears out the conclusions of other studies by the unions and the Inspectorate itself - hard work by teachers got the reforms off the ground but procedures need to be simplified and clarified.

The findings support both the principles of Higher Still in general and of internal assessment in particular and were endorsed by the Association of Directors of Education and the Association of Scottish Colleges, which took part in the joint study.

The remaining problem areas are now to be considered by the new National Qualifications Steering Group, which has been given responsibility for ensuring progress in the Higher Still programme.

The survey, which was based on questionnaires and visits involving 57 schools and five further education colleges, found that "schools and colleges overwhelmingly reported that they had been successful in implementing assessment arrangements and procedures for Higher Still". There was "strong support for the retention of formal internal assessment". Students "valued internal assessment highly and felt that the purposeful dialogue with teachers which internal assessment promotes helped them learn better". There was less cramming for examinations.

The message that the implementation of Higher Still has been a success and that the ADES supports that conclusion contrasts with evidence given to the parliamentary education committee's inquiry into the exams crisis by Gordon Jeyes, general secretary of the ADES, who told SPs that "Higher Still was a failure in implementation".

The majority of school and FE staff, however, still want the volume of internal assessment reduced and greater clarification of the relationship between the internal unit and external course assessments. Many of the problems, the report suggests, were due to poor communication.

The report also points out that action to sort out some of these issues, such as the complexities in data handling, confusion over assessment arrangements and difficulties in particular subjects, was already in hand. The overall message of successful implementation was not borne out in all subjects, however. More than 90 per cent of music teachers and more than 80 per cent of French departments said the arrangements had been very successful or successful, but only half of English and drama departments and fewer than half of art and design and computing teachers.

Although the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Higher Still Development Unit were commended for their efforts in preparing for Higher Still, they were seen by half of the schools, colleges and individual departments as less effective in coming to their aid when problems arose. Responsibility for Higher Still passed to Learning and Teaching Scotland in December.

Philip Banks, HM chief inspector in charge of learning and teaching, said he was pleased to note the "significant progress" which the independent report had confirmed and which reflected the evidence HMI had gathered from its own school and college inspections.

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