My last batch of exam papers has been posted. I have attended my last Standard Grade markers meeting, taught my last Standard Grade class. Only the final set of results is still to come. This marks the final death knell of my involvement in Standard Grade. This is the examination that I sat in 4th year as did most people living in Scotland aged between about 15 and 40. Standard Grade was certainly not without its critics who, among other things, bemoaned the attempts to appeal to all abilities. Many History teachers also dreaded teaching some of the topics included in the “Changing Life in Scotland and Britain” theme. The changes in agriculture always did for me and I have never been able to find a way to make the 4 year crop rotation enthralling. Nevertheless, I always liked the fact that nearly every child could do Standard Grade History. The new qualifications worry me in that “General Level” pupils do not really have a natural place. National 4 is too easy for them, so do we risk them in the National 5? With Standard Grade it was safe to let these kids have a bash at Credit with the insurance of a General pass if they didn’t make the Credit. But what if they fail the National 5 and end up with nothing? There is also the issue of the squeezing of our numbers as the number of subjects taken by pupils in S4 drops. I hope sincerely that there will not be any need to dig into the trenches and defend the place of History on the curriculum.
Seriously, this makes it look more interesting than it is!
Will I need to bring out my “History is wonderful” posters?
I also reflect with some sadness on the sidelining of some of the Standard Grade topics. The clumsy “International Co-operation and Conflict 1880s – 1920s” has been replaced by the more catchy “The Era of the Great War, 1910-1928.” However, this new unit does not include any teaching on the build up to and causes of World War One. While I will not miss correcting countless Slaves (Slavs) and Imperial mints (imperialism), I do think it is unfortunate that young people will have no broad concept of the causes of war. It is not just that I like (and the pupils enjoy) the reconstructions of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and the colouring in of maps of Europe divided into “Two armed camps”, I think that something fundamental is being missed. An understanding of international diplomacy and power struggles is essential and is where the “learning lessons from history” really sets in. Bismarck’s prophecy that war would start over some “damn foolish thing in the Balkans” is relevant today and an understanding of the tensions that existed in the 1900s can help our understanding of the current issues in this region. Sadly, this will be lost on the next generation.
When I was doing my teacher training 11 years ago we were constantly told that Standard Grade was on its way out, that it was past its sell-buy date and had only been intended to last for 10 years; but it has limped on these last years as the policy makers have found something to replace it. “Intermediate” has not proven to be an adequate replacement and I can’t help but wonder if National 4/5 is really going to do the job better? One of the key accusations against Standard Grade is that it is an inadequate preparation for Higher. That certainly may be the case and we have undoubtedly been punished for training our candidates well enough to get a Credit pass knowing that they will never be up to achieving at Higher. I suppose the key may be thinking about what we want our end of 4th year exams to achieve. If it is academic excellence then we may have chosen the correct course for our higher achieving pupils, but I can’t help but worry about those of more average ability. There also appears to be an assumption with the new qualifications that they will allow teachers to engage pupils in a wider range of activities. I have read and heard well meaning advice such as “maybe you could get them to do a poster showing the key arguments for and against the railways.” This hardly comes as a startling revelation to any teacher! We have all been employing these techniques for years and the new qualifications seem to be in part about ensuring that pupils receive a wide range of learning experiences. This can be no bad thing, but wasn’t I doing this already??? The pressure of the “Added Value Unit” at National 4 (internally assessed – eek!) and the National 5 Assignment will undoubtedly have even Standard Grade’s most ardent critics pulling their hair out. We have just started this process and I have already heard cries of “Bring back Standard Grade, all is forgiven!”
Throughout the whole process of implementation there seems to be very high levels of confusion and uncertainty about what the new qualifications entail and this is probably central to the problem. Most of us want to be told clearly what to do so we can get on with it. Unfortunately information has not always been forthcoming and many of us have to wait till November until key textbooks are published. This is rather unhelpful when the courses are supposed to be up and running right now! All I can say is that I do not doubt that similar concerns were raised 25 years ago when Standard Grade was in its infancy. What’s more, I do not doubt that in 15 years time I could be in the position of writing very similar things again as another new qualification journey begins. Since I won’t get to teach it any more, I will finish with a bit of International Co-operation and Conflict key terminology with my hope that National 4/5 and I will develop a bit of an Entente Cordiale and be able to work together for mutually beneficial ends – just short of a binding commitment, of course.
A final piece of nostalgia. Punch cartoons are great. This one is no exception!