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Waiting for wins on the Ucas lottery

There are just two days to go to the Ucas deadline for this year's university applications. Thousands of last-minute forms will be winging their way in the hours up to midnight on Sunday. Many applicants will have their Highers results in the bag and know the requirements for their chosen courses. Careers teachers will have advised them and supported them in the writing of their CVs. So it only remains for the universities to respond over the coming months with offers or rejections. It's a well-trodden furrow, and the schools have a fair idea what to expect.

But what if all the rules changed, and the teachers didn't know what the universities wanted? What if it was all uncharted territory and the pupils' fates just lay in the hands of random university admissions officers? What if it was all just a bit of a lottery? Well, that's pretty much how it appears for the pupils who will follow in the next couple of years.

Nobody wishes to alarm parents or students at this stage but until the universities decide how to respond to the new flexibility at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence, schools are pretty well in the dark. Should they be advising pupils to do Highers over one year or two? Should they be encouraging them to take advantage of that new-found flexibility and take the route that suits them? No one really knows.

Why is all this being discussed only now? Did nobody think it important enough to broach these issues a few years ago, when Curriculum for Excellence was being designed and a single continuum, or different pathways, through to degree level could have been laid? It's as if the powers that be have looked at school education in isolation, making a nonsense of "lifelong learning".

Now what we have is a task force recommending at the end of March how universities should adapt their admissions policies for 2016 and whether they need to change their own learning and teaching strategies to match curriculum developments at school level. But these children have to start making their decisions next year. And schools need to know how to structure those final years.

For a national education system that burned its fingers so badly with the introduction of Higher Still and the notorious SQA results debacle in 2000, it beggars belief. You would have hoped we had learnt our lesson.

Instead, we have the universities facing a conglomeration of issues still to be resolved, and in a very short time. A decade ago, the heads of the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Scottish education department rolled. If the country faces another fiasco, its international reputation will be further damaged and those responsible will have to answer for it again.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor of the year, (business and professional) gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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