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Where Howie feared to tread

It is scarcely the worst kept secret in Scottish education that the Standard grade qualification, if not necessarily the course, is likely to have a limited shelf-life. The advent of National Qualifications has clearly challenged its role. The Education Minister has looked overseas and found Standard grade to be "anomalous". The Executive is already committed to reducing the leaving qualifications taken in S4-S6. And now, from south of the border, comes the Tomlinson report on 14 to 19-year-olds.

It is very radical: one can only imagine the uproar the Howie committee would have generated if it had recommended sweeping away Standard grade and Highers, the equivalent of what Tomlinson is suggesting. The English reformers have at least learnt one lesson from Scotland and set out a 10-year timescale.

But the Tomlinson message is clear: there is, as our Education Minister put it, too cluttered a qualifications landscape and increased staying-on rates make a leaving exam at 16 somewhat anomalous, while at the same time placing too much pressure on pupils, teachers and the system. There was an argument for testing the market and retaining Standard grade while National Qualifications were bedding in. But that time has passed and the Executive should be emboldened by Tomlinson.

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