HC Deb 21 January 1986 vol 90 cc101-2W
Mr. Corrie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement about the implementation of standard grade and revised higher grade examinations.

Mr. Rifkind

The Government have given very careful consideration to the revised timetable for the introduction of standard grade which my predecessor announced on 15 January last year, at column 39.

The Government remain firmly committed to the introduction of standard grade and to the consequent revision of higher grade. The new courses offer more relevant and effective education for children of all abilities and have continued to receive wide support both from within the education service and from universities, employers organisations and other users of the certificate. It therefore remains a central aim to introduce standard grade for all pupils in all subjects as soon as possible.

I recognise, however, that the boycott of curricular development which the Educational Institute of Scotland and other teachers' unions have operated since August 1984 has seriously affected the implementation of the standard grade courses which were introduced in 1984 and the development of new courses. This is in spite of the strong support of many teachers for the principles of standard grade. It has meant that relatively few schools will be able to present pupils for standard grade in 1986 and has led to serious uncertainty both about the future of standard grade and about arrangements for certification if standard grade continues to be boycotted in many schools.

My aim is to reach an early settlement of the teachers' dispute which will among other things secure the commitment of teachers to curriculum development. The Government have recognised however that there is force in the argument that in present circumstances the proposed pace of curricular change is likely to prove too fast for the education service, in particular for the classroom teacher. I also believe it is essential that avoidable uncertainty about future examination arrangements should not continue. In the light of these factors I am making the following proposals:

  1. i. standard grade examinations for the courses introduced as phase 1 of the programme should take place as planned in 1986 and 1987 and should continue thereafter.
  2. ii. examinations for subjects in phase 2 of the programme should be held as planned in 1988 and subsequently.
  3. iii. standard grade computing studies should be offered for examination in 1988 as part of phase 2 rather than in phase 3 as originally planned, because of the wide support shown for the new course.
  4. iv. otherwise, the courses in phase 3 of the programme should be offered for first examination as planned in 1989, subject to consultation on the course proposals. Development work in some subjects however has been seriously affected by the dispute and introduction of these may have to be deferred for one or more years with first examinations in 1990 or later. Precisely which of these subjects have to be deferred will be determined as soon as possible in the light of progress.
  5. v. further consideration should be given to the position of subjects not so far included in the first 3 phases of standard grade but little progress on developing further courses can be expected until after the teachers' dispute has been resolved.
  6. vi. the development programme for the revision of highers and post-highers should continue where possible so that the new courses can be available to follow on from standard grade as long as they can be developed satisfactorily in the present circumstances and achieve appropriate recognition.
  7. vii. at the same time however the traditional forms of examination at ordinary grade, higher grade and for the certificate of sixth year studies should continue to be offered in parallel with the revised forms of examination. Once satisfactory progress has been made in implementing each phase of the new examinations, I would expect the traditional forms to be withdrawn but no decision on the timing of withdrawal would be taken until after the dispute is over.

I believe that these proposals .will relieve the present uncertainty about future public examination arrangements for schools and allow education authorities and their schools to proceed with the implementation of standard grade as best they can in present circumstances. Authorities will wish to note that the Government's expenditure plans continue to provide for staffing in secondary schools of 6 per cent. over Red Book in order to allow for the implementation of standard grade.

My officials have written to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and to the Scottish Examination Board to seek their urgent comments on these proposals.