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ScotBac still needs to move forward

We are writing to you following our experience over the past session with regard to the Scottish Baccalaureate.

We were initially impressed by the potential of the new qualification and, accordingly, we encouraged our S6 students in August last year to consider participation in this pilot phase. Originally, we had 14 potential applicants, of whom 11 actually began the interdisciplinary project. By the end of the process, we had five candidates, four in the sciences and one in languages, of whom four gained distinctions in the final award.

We are glad to have taken part. It enabled a strong degree of cross- departmental consultation and collegiality and we do believe it fostered students' independent learning skills, as it sets out to do.

However, we have a number of serious reservations about ScotBac as it currently stands:

- It was very, very time-intensive, particularly for the scientists (students and staff). Similarly, it made demands on resources and accommodation which were difficult to meet.

- There are real difficulties in balancing the amount of intervention by teachers and in ensuring the consistency of students' experience of this.

- The administration is cumbersome and repetitive, again for both parties involved.

- The form of assessment of the interdisciplinary project focuses on process and lacks clarity in the assessment of the outcome itself. In effect, students - with appropriate support - set themselves up to answer complex questions, but the quality of their answers is not, in essence, part of the central assessment process.

Finally, we are concerned about the validity of the qualification. We were impressed by the way in which our candidates maintained their enthusiasm when we were less certain of the "value-added" gained by students who were already, inevitably, doing investigations andor dissertations at an advanced level.

But we noted that both top-flight and slightly less academic students dropped out when it became apparent that they needed to focus on other qualifications for the purposes of university entrance.

The ScotBac programme has some way to go in terms of currency, both educational and practical.

Moira Williams depute and director of studies, Christine Binnie depute and examinations officer Cameron Wyllie head of senior school, George Heriot's School, Edinburgh.

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