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Budget cuts threaten plan to revamp Highers in physics and biology

Plans by the Scottish Qualifications Authority to revise and modernise the content of physics and biology Highers and Advanced Highers are in jeopardy, The TESS has learnt.

Budgetary pressures have forced the exams body to axe funding for the qualifications development managers for the two subjects from April.

The move is likely to fuel fears that other aspects of the SQA's work are also under threat due to budget cuts.

The experts in charge of making the Higher and Advanced Higher syllabuses for physics and biology more up-to-date were told last week that the SQA could not afford to renew their contracts.

Although the developments have not been officially cancelled, it is understood that without additional money being injected, they will be unable to continue.

Paul Chambers, a member of the physics development team and a senior lecturer at Strathclyde University, where he is responsible for the physics PGDE, said all the work done over the past four years would stagnate as a result of the decision.

The team had been working on the introduction of more relevant content into the exams - such as cosmology in the case of physics. The need to make the courses more up-to-date was considered so urgent that the teams were set up to introduce changes before the Highers and Advanced Highers were revised to bring them into line with the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence.

Now, the likelihood is that these teams' work will be put into cold storage, although they could resurface in the work of the CfE teams.

"All the foundations and basis of our thinking will be forgotten if it is overtaken by the CfE team, whoever they are," said Mr Chambers.

He added that around 60 schools were considering putting themselves forward as "early adopters" of the new physics Higher - but that would now have to be abandoned.

A spokesman for the SQA said: "SQA, along with other public bodies, is facing significant financial pressures in the coming financial year.

"We are in dialogue with the Scottish Government about how we will face these challenges and part of this includes reviewing the development and introduction schedules of the new sciences Highers and Advanced Highers. We envisage no adverse impact on Curriculum for Excellence development as this is fully funded through a separate Scottish Government grant."

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