|dc.description.abstract||We publish here Henry Philip's updating of his earlier history of Scottish school examinations, taking the account to the end of the twentieth century. His first volume, published in 1992 by the Scottish Examination Board as The Higher Tradition, took the story from the founding of the modern system in 1888 to the late 1980s; it is now an indispensable guide to the subject, and hence also to the whole development of Scottish secondary schools in the period. This latest volume takes the story to the threshold of the significant reforms to it that were put in place in 1999-2000.
The details of the recent changes charted here by Mr Philip are of importance in themselves, affecting as they have done the lives of almost everyone who has attended school in Scotland in the past twenty years. In that sense, this more recent volume deals with matters of far greater social significance than most of the first volume, which covered periods when the examination system affected the schooling of only a minority of students. The final stages of that earlier account did track the rapid expansion of examinations that took place in the three decades from the early 1960s, but the culmination of this aim of assessing everyone in the hope of providing opportunity for everyone was not reached until the late 1990s. Mr Philip's story thus contributes to our understanding of a fundamental shift in our view of what schooling is about.
Running through that enormous change, however, even from the earliest days when the old Leaving Certificate catered for no more than about 4 per cent of the school population, was a sense of continuity, of old educational values, which were deemed to be typical of Scottish culture itself, being gradually extended to ever-widening social groups and hence being constantly democratised. That sense of permanence through change was brought into dispute in the period covered by Mr Philip here, and is increasingly a matter of controversy with the impending new reform of the curriculum and examination system that has been in the making since around 2002, with the support of most shades of political and educational opinion. In that sense, Mr Philips work here, finishing (by coincidence) at the moment when the Scottish Parliament took responsibility for Scottish education, is also an account of the end of a system that now seems quite firmly in the past, although laying the basis for what is now being debated.
The process of change described by Mr Philip is also of great interest to any student of Scottish policy making, whether or not they are concerned with the specifics of educational policy. This is the most detailed study we yet have of any area of policy making in the final decade of the old Scottish Office, and his account of the development of the examination system will remain definitive at least until all the relevant official archives are released, which will not be until 2030 or even possibly 2050. Mr Philip has been given access to many revealing internal papers, and is able to investigate in detail the exchanges among ministers, officials and senior inspectors of education. He is thus able (in Chapter 5) to explain more cogently than any previous writer on this subject what happened between the proposals to reform the examination system that were made in 1992 by the official committee chaired by Professor John Howie and the policy pronouncements by the Scottish Office in its Higher Still proposals of 1994 onwards. The picture that emerges is of a Scottish Office that still contained a great deal of creative energy, and of ministers who did not demur at making radical changes even when their political and constitutional position seemed increasingly precarious. This was not a governing system in terminal decline despite the assumptions of much public political debate in the 1990s and all those involved appear, in Mr Philip's account, to be seeking to lead a consensus that would command popular support. But it also remained a process that was largely invisible to public scrutiny, unlike the more recent debates in and around the Scottish parliament (not the least of which was about the near-collapse of the new examinations system in 2000). Mr Philip's careful exploration of the old policy-making system thus provides opportunities for comparison with the new governing structures that have been developed since 1999.
Lindsay Paterson, Edinburgh University