Time to ditch the Development Unit

HELEN LIDDELL, the Education Minister, should ask why there is so much hostility from so many teachers towards Higher Still. It is not at all to do with a lack of resources, or even the tight timetable. It is entirely the result of the incompetence of the Higher Still Development Unit to present a workable framework.

Has anyone tried reading their offerings? The recent - third! - English and Communications tome measures over 350 pages. It is a labyrinth to read and compare because of its unwieldy structure, its preponderance of jargon and its lack of helpful page numbering. Yet it is imperative that the different levels are compared to try to make sense of the assessment procedures.

There are so many stupid things required of teachers that I find it hard to select only a few. The most obviously worrying are:

* Students have three attempts in school to pass each unit. But if they fail, they can still sit the exam and if they pass that, they can return to school and sit again the bit they failed in school, having once again three attempts to pass this element. So teachers could be required to mark each element six times, and employers might have a Higher student who needed six shots to achieve the standard.

* Despite what the HSDU says, it will be impossible to ensure national consistency of assessment in talk or listening.

* There is now no requirement on Higher students to write in formal English, the report having been relegated to the status of an option.

* There are unrealistically high expectations of students at the lower levels, Access 3 and Intermediate 1.

* There are potentially 18 assessment descriptors at Higher level alone, so vague as to be unworkable. It is simply unnecessary that teachers have this responsibility thrust on them. Let us continue to teach, offer practice and support - and then let the exam decide.

More money has been promised for training but the quality has been truly awful. Two of the three days on which principal teachers attended dealt with report and textual analysis (seen) which have since been abandoned as compulsory elements.

The answer is to disperse the failed, entirely discredited HSDU, and appoint someone who can write what needs to be done in plain English, basing it firmly on the good practice in the existing Revised Higher course and National Certificate materials. That could lead to an August 1999 start as planned.

Eddie Poyner

Bonnington Avenue, Lanark

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