Time to go public and open up the debate

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Disquiet about the proposals for English in Higher Still is not being appeased.+ Articles by Tony McManus last week and Eddie Poyner on the opposite page today+ claim that in content and assessment the proposals remain seriously flawed. + Some of the worries, especially about the burden of internal assessment, are + shared by teachers of other subjects. But English has peculiar problems. It is + a key subject for most Higher candidates. It demands large amounts of written + work which has to be marked by teachers and frequently involves value + judgments. It is set to combine elements from "traditional" Higher courses and + those from communication, as the area is known in further education. It has + therefore been recast more than most Higher subjects and remains prey to + tensions between advocates of teaching literary appreciation and those for whom+ it is a core skill.The compilers of the new programme, which will encompass + an access course and two intermediate levels as well as Higher itself, believe + that teacher concerns are allayed by in-service sessions. They say that partial+ grasp of the facts combined with natural wariness produced the resentment + which, for example, boiled over at a meeting in Edinburgh. But the cascade + effect by which knowledge is supposed to spread through a department has not + had the results hoped for. It has simply extended the numbers of the + dispirited.Creators of the English proposals, who have lived with them for + several years, are understandably defensive. Members of the Inspectorate and + the Higher Still Development Unit charged with implementing the programme can + easily become detached from the reality of classroom conditions. Higher Still + has twice been postponed, they will say. Further delay is impossible.Problems + will be ironed out once the programme is up and running, and they will probably+ seem less threatening by then, too. These responses are inadequate. They might+ be enough if the proposals had been thoroughly discussed in public and if + continuing objectors could be described as implacable foot-draggers. But the + strange thing is that amid the welter of publicity for Higher Still the radical+ changes foisted upon English teachers have not been fully set out and debated + except in subject meetings. Last week Mr McManus called for the proposals to be+ scrapped. Mr Poyner devises an alternative syllabus, separating the needs of + most pupils from those who choose a grounding in literature.Neither view is + likely to find much favour. But there is still time for wider discussion which + might throw light on how English ought to be regarded nowadays. If tensions + between the proponents of different concepts were not resolved, at least they + might no longer isolate schoolteachers and college lecturers in opposing camps,+ where the point and purpose of Higher Still are negated. Even at this late + stage the Inspectorate should go public and open up the debate.

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