The Government has shown signs of moving quickly to dampen down growing union antagonism to the Higher Still reforms. The post-16 blueprint is due to be introduced from August next year but the Education Minister has confirmed the initial pace will be slower than previously envisaged.
Brian Wilson also announced that a review has been taking place on the assessment demands of the new English course, the most hotly contested aspect of the reforms. Mr Wilson said changes would be announced shortly.
The response followed a highly critical speech in Aberdeen this week by Ian McCalman, president of the Educational Institute of Scotland. Mr Wilson, who was in charge of Labour's "rapid rebuttal" of claims by political opponents during the general election, denounced the speech almost three hours before it was delivered.
Mr McCalman said that teachers were being "blackmailed into implementing under-resourced courses which sell pupils and teachers short" in a speech that was essentially a restating of the policy set out at the union's January executive council meeting. He focused particularly on complaints about additional assessment, multi-level teaching and lack of training.
Mr Wilson, in his sharpest rebuke to a teaching union, said: "Despite the opportunities afforded through regular meetings, the EIS has not expressed these concerns in anything resembling the terms used by Mr McCalman. Nobody is blackmailing teachers."
A total of o19 million had been invested in the development programme, Mr Wilson said, but he acknowledged: "The pace at which the full benefits of Higher Still will be realised will inevitably be influenced by the resources that are available."
Mr Wilson said schools and colleges "will look to expand into the new and exciting areas offered by Higher Still over time, in the light of local demand and availability of local resources."
Mr Wilson also sought to calm fears that teachers would be faced with pupils following different courses in the same class. He said the changes would neither promote nor rely on an increase in multi-level teaching. "Higher Still will provide solutions to problems faced by teachers now. The national staff development programme in May will provide specific advice to teachers about how to approach this issue."
Scottish Office concerns over teacher hostility were also evidenced in a letter sent by an official to an assistant principal English teacher. Alison Winton of Carluke High, who wants the EIS to boycott the reforms, was told the assessment workload of Higher Still English had been compared with that of the existing course and found to be similar.
l The Scottish Office is about to publish the results of a study which will establish equivalence between A-levels and the new Advanced Higher. The Education Minister believes it will "transform the debate" about entry to higher education, justifying direct entry for Scottish students into the second year of university courses along with A-level students.