Teachers have welcomed the Scottish government’s decision to allow secondary schools to decide whether pupils should sit the current Higher or the new version in 2014/15, but parents are “likely to have concerns”.
Last week education secretary Mike Russell granted demands by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s biggest teaching union, to delay the introduction of the new Highers if individual schools were not ready.
Having originally opposed the move as unnecessary, Mr Russell said pupils could study for the existing exam if individual departments advised.
“Where it is a principal teacher’s clear professional judgement that their young people’s interests would be best served by studying for the existing Highers then it is right they should have the opportunity to work closely with their senior management, local authority and, crucially, the parent body, to make that decision,” he said.
Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said it was welcome that Mr Russell had listened to teachers’ views. “This is a sensible approach that will enable teachers to use their best judgement in deciding which option is in the best interests of their pupils.
“It is now imperative for all councils to follow this lead and support teachers in their decisions, rather than imposing authority-wide policies that may not take into account circumstances in each school or in every department.”
However, Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said many parents would be concerned by the uncertainty over which exam their child would be sitting.
“We’ve not had the time to fully digest and analyse this as an organisation yet, but parents are likely to respond with a bit of concern,” she said. “I’m not saying this possible delay is a good or a bad thing, it’s just that what parents thought is happening might not be happening.”
As many S5 and S6 pupils attend combined classes, it was always going to be an awkward transition to the new Higher, Ms Prior said, and the delay could exacerbate that in terms of different curriculums.
“We will certainly be encouraging parents to have meaningful dialogue with their school about this issue.”
Universities have signalled they will treat the existing and new Highers as the same in terms of entry value.
Workload for teachers is a related challenge, since the Nationals, which replace Standard grades across most of Scotland this summer, require far more assessment.
Mr Flanagan said adequate resources must be provided to allow schools to prepare for teaching the new Higher courses. “It is imperative that additional investment should be made to allow schools to update resources, similar to the support package that was provided to assist schools with resources for the introduction of the Nationals this year.”