Will the unions be won over?;Higher Still

11th September 1998 at 01:00
Helen Liddell has given the 'highest priority' to heading off a classroom revolt, reports Neil Munro

A "MAJOR funding announcement" was expected from the Education Minister as we went to press to break down teacher resistance to the implementation time-scale for the Higher Still reforms.

Helen Liddell is likely to hold out a substantial carrot of more than pound;20 million, double the amount initially anticipated. It is intended to support additional preparation and meet key local needs.

The announcement is clearly timed to influence the outcome of next weekend's meeting in Glasgow of the EIS executive council. The union's annual June conference ordered a membership ballot on a Higher Still boycott, but the council can review that decision if there has been a substantial change of circumstances.

Mrs Liddell's statement will acknowledge that something has to be done to address teacher concerns on workload, staff development and resources. But the MInister will also underline the vast amount of work which has already taken place nationally and by education authorities.

She is also writing to every secondary head, confirming there will be no change to plans for an August 1999 start to the reforms and attempting to clear up some of the misconceptions.

The clearest warning to Mrs Liddell came in a speech last week from Moira McCrossan, the new EIS president. Her key demands and official moves to date are:

* "Substantial new cash must be made available quickly."

The new funding is additional to the pound;20 million which will have been committed to the development phase by next year. This has been spent on national staff development for senior school and college managers, principal teachers and subject leaders, teaching support materials, the national assessment bank of internal assessment packs and IT-based guidance materials.

* "Any new money must be properly targeted so that funding is available in those areas which need it most" - chiefly new technology, staff development and additional teacher staffing.

The Government's first Budget earmarked pound;116 million over five years for capital spending on schools, although this includes buildings as well as technology. Another pound;59 million is being given to local authorities over three years to improve the computer stock in schools and link them to the Internet as part of the National Grid for Learning.

But these sums are not specific to secondary schools and are unlikely to bear much fruit before Higher Still is due to start next August.

Further national staff development sessions on assessment take place over the next three months, for senior managers including principal teachers. The Scottish Office is also sanctioning two additional in-service days specifically for subject teachers to familiarise themselves with the new courses.

There has been no announcement on additional staffing, although ministers will doubtless point out that the comprehensive spending review plans to increase local authority spending on education by 6.4 per cent next year and 4 per cent in each of the following two years.

* "All teachers and lecturers involved with the programme must have sufficient time in which to carry out teaching, assessment and administration." There should be "self-phasing" to keep change to a minimum.

This will be a matter for each education authority. Higher Still chiefs insist that more streamlined courses and targeted assessment will, eventually, lead to improvements. And a quarter of every Higher Still course, an additional 40 hours, is intended to consolidate pupils' work and prepare them for the external exam.

Assessment will be the main focus of this year's national staff development sessions, but targeted on heads and principal teachers. A detailed blueprint on Managing Assessment was published in June by the Higher Still Development Unit - but, again, intended for senior school and college managers. Support material from the national assessment bank - amounting to 120 packs for 33 Higher courses alone - has now been issued (with the exceptions of English, music and PE).

Generally, the Inspectorate is now talking of Higher Still as a three to five-year programme to allay fears of a "big bang" introduction. The new Higher courses will have to be the first priority under "self-phasing", followed by adaptation of existing modules to the Higher Still levels.

But some subjects like English require substantial changes and may require more time to replace the existing Higher.

* Staff development and training are a "key element" in the success of Higher Still. "Simply choosing to train selected groups of teachers, such as heads of department, to go on to training other teachers will not do."

The two days for Higher Still training are specifically intended for subject teachers, which education authorities and schools are expected to supplement through existing in-service days and planned activity time.

* "Teachers require clear assurances that multi-level teaching be kept to an absolute minimum."

The Higher Still Development Unit says it would only contemplate bi-level not multi-level teaching. Classes currently encompass two levels of ability, particularly at Higher where a number of students fail after one year (as high as 40 per cent in some subjects) and have to repeat the next. Staffing and timetabling are seen a matter for school managements to negotiate with their departments.

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