Unreality beneath the post-16 jigsaw

13th December 1996 at 00:00
Higher Still makes post-16 education comprehensive. It offers courses and certification for all pupils and students after Standard grade. The Scottish Office has a chart showing progression through nine stages from access courses (following S-grade foundation level) to a PhD. If lifelong learning gains the hold which everyone hopes for, one day someone may add "Dr" to his or her name having scaled the whole ladder.

Most of the publicity about the development programme has focused on the new Highers and Advanced Highers, the links with existing vocational qualifications and the benchmarks for entry to higher education. The concerns of sectors - schools, colleges and universities - are being addressed separately. Information for parents and employers will come later. There is a danger that the all embracing concept of Higher Still is forgotten. That is one reason why there was a warm welcome this week for The TES Scotland's conference which brought together representatives from all sectors (pages four and five).

A commonality of interest emerged. The schools expressed concern about limited ability to offer Higher Still courses. Further education said it had no ambition to encroach on the schools' preserve (a contrast with south of the border). Higher education accepted dependence on both sectors and showed no sign of former desire to dictate what schools should teach and examine. Government representatives took pleasure at expressions of a sense of purpose which buttressed determination to go ahead.

Yet there were warnings to heed. The national jigsaw is being pieced together. Thousands of teachers and lecturers have been informed and consulted. But at classroom level there remains a feeling of unreality. It is probably less of a problem in colleges than in schools: further education is highly adaptable, as the range of new courses and qualifications since Action Plan amply demonstrates.

But secondary teachers do not know whether to tackle their part of the 5-14 programme or to bend their energies to Higher Still. They say they are under-resourced to do both in the time-frame given them.

Gradualism is a term used both by proponents of the programme and by doubters. The new Highers will start in 1998-99, but other parts of the programme take longer, especially the qualifications below Higher, use of certified core skills and the marketing of group awards. That would satisfy the programme developers but it remains too ambitious for many teachers.

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