23rd May 1997 at 01:00
Labour will win fresh plaudits from the education community today by confirming+ that the start of the Higher Still reforms is to be delayed by another year to+ August 1999, the second postponement.Brian Wilson the Education Minister, will+ use the platform provided by a conference in Glasgow organised by the + Educational Institute of Scotland and the Equal Opportunities Commission to end+ speculation about the Government's intentions. His decision is in line with + unanimous calls from council leaders, directors of education, secondary + headteachers and unions to give schools another year's breathing space. The + move is also in line with a pledge in Labour's election manifesto to "allow an + extra year" for implementation.Mr Wilson is believed to have contemplated a + more laissez-faire approach, allowing schools to proceed immediately with the + new post-16 curriculum if they felt they were ready while others caught up at a+ later date.But he concluded that this would cause too much confusion. Mr + Wilson is also determined not to phase in the changes from next year and will + make it clear that they are to be introduced as a single package.This will be + greeted with relief by many concerned at the prospect of what Bob McKay, past + president of the Association of Directors of Education, described as a + "seriously divisive" step if schools proceeded at different paces.Elizabeth + Maginnis, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local + Authorities, was particularly hostile to phasing in the Higher Still + programme. Mrs Maginnis told Cosla's education forum meeting in March that this+ "would cause confusion and increase costs through running two parallel + systems". Directors of education had previously been more serene in + contemplating a phased introduction. But Mr McKay, the director in Perth and + Kinross, told last Friday's forum that a year's delay was their preferred + option. If they had been forced to make a start in August next year, their + view was that priority should be given to the pre-Higher Intermediate level. Mr+ Wilson hopes his announcement will be acknowledged as an indication that + ministers are prepared to do what they can to ease teacher burdens. But he + will stress the importance of using the coming year to plan for the changeover + which ought now to take place in more measured fashion.Cosla has already given + an undertaking that if the Government authorised a year's delay "education + authorities would commit staff development resources to ensure that the + programme was ready from 1999". The directors repeated that assurance in a + press statement this week. John Travers, the ADES's president, who is director + in North Ayrshire, said: "We are confident that the Higher Still courses can be+ introduced successfully without phasing, providing there is the further one + year's delay." Mr Travers has the key job of publicising the changes among + parents, employers and pupils as chairman of the Higher Still information + group.The immediate priority, however, will be to target principal teachers, + learning support specialists and guidance staff. They are due to become + involved in staff development events next month when the training programme + gets under way. Douglas Osler, the senior chief inspector of schools, believes+ that this will ease the worries of the key subject leaders in schools.The + "considerable" demands of staff development were part of a six-point shopping + list of requirements presented to the previous education minister by secondary + heads when they urged a year's delay in February.The Headteachers' Association + of Scotland also warned that course documentation was "far from finished" for + an August 1997 start, there were "inconsistencies of approach" between + subjects, course materials awaited preparation, multi-level teaching "remains a+ contentiou s issue" and major calls on resources such as guidance and + technology "require to be resolved".Michael O'Neill, director of education in + North Lanarkshire, who chairs the ADES's Higher Still working group, believes + the two-year lead-in time which is now being granted will allow some of these + major issues to be dealt with "via a revised staff development programme + involving a greater degree of local and national partnership". It remains to be+ seen whether the Government's concession will alleviate union concerns on + funding. The #163;14 million that will have been spent on Higher Still by the + end of this financial year has gone to the development programme not to + schools. This is one of the issues on which the Scottish Secondary Teachers' + Association says it must be satisfied if it is to call off its threatened + ballot on a boycott of the reforms.