SQA expands the Bacc's reach

Exam authority adds expressive arts and social sciences

Henry Hepburn

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The number of Scottish Baccalaureates has been doubled, in a bold move designed to attract many more candidates and allow them to skip a year at university.

Expressive arts and social sciences baccalaureates will be available alongside science and languages equivalents from August, in the hope of boosting a qualification that has been undertaken by about 500 pupils since its 2009 launch.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has also expanded the range of permissible subjects for the science baccalaureate to include geography and psychology.

Concerns remain that baccalaureates - which combine Highers, Advanced Highers and an interdisciplinary project - will not be offered in all schools, and there is confusion about universities' stance on the qualifications.

The SQA and the Scottish government believe the changes will allow greater flexibility in higher education degrees, with baccalaureate candidates able to enter directly into the second year of undergraduate courses.

Education secretary Michael Russell talked up universities' attitudes to second-year entry: "Most will either do it or are talking about doing it."

It was a bigger challenge, he added, to inform pupils that they could proceed directly to second year, and persuade them of the value in doing so. Generally, he saw "considerable and growing interest" among universities about baccalaureates.

They had already proved their worth in helping a number of pupils get into Oxbridge, said SQA chief executive Janet Brown.

One social subjects teacher at the launch was enthusiastic but still needed to be persuaded that it would "open doors to university".

Another teacher was discouraged by pupils' experiences at open days, where universities "weren't prepared to consider it at all".

But a languages teacher who had been doing the baccalaureate for three years said: "As a holistic experience, it's invaluable."

Seona Reid, director of the Glasgow School of Art, said the expressive arts baccalaureate would help students become "autonomous and team learners, and it will create opportunities to work with higher education institutions on projects which provide students with early insights into HE".

Dr Brown said the baccalaureate had "brought the educational community together" by connecting Scottish schools to colleges, industry and schools abroad.

There was "a lot of enthusiasm" among headteachers, said Mr Russell; he anticipated they would put "more resource and effort into it" in the coming years.

An "interesting and unlooked-for development", Mr Russell added, was that 81 pupils had done the pivotal part - the interdisciplinary project - without taking on the full baccalaureate. Its appeal, he believes, lies in encouraging rigour comparable to that of the defunct Sixth Year Studies.

The new baccalaureates were welcomed by Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, as they would "certainly reinforce the very good practice of cooperation with the FE and HE sectors".

But they would not be equally available across the country, and should not detract from preparations for other new qualifications.

Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association general secretary Ann Ballinger similarly tempered her enthusiasm for the new baccalaureates: "It remains a middle-class aspiration, with pupils from the `leafy suburbs' the most likely beneficiaries."




Three S6 pupils at the launch event for the new baccalaureates explained how the qualification - particularly the interdisciplinary project - had made their confidence rocket.

Molly Butler from Mackie Academy in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, has been exploring how the arts were valued differently in Italy and Scotland.

One of the biggest boosts to her confidence came from carrying out a survey with random passers-by in Venice, having only started Italian as a crash course at Higher.

Calum Winter, of Bell Baxter High in Cupar, Fife, has been looking at whether more accurate long-term weather forecasting would improve life in Scotland.

He has made big improvements to his time management and public speaking, and has identified more areas of research to explore.

Kyle Thornton of Glasgow's Bellahouston Academy has used a languages interdisciplinary project - without taking on a full baccalaureate - to build on his interest in politics.

He has been exploring the importance of languages in European politics, including interviews with Members of the European Parliament.

University admissions staff have advised him that the way to get credit for his hard work is to put it in his personal statement.

Scottish Baccalaureate: expanded options


Mandatory component

Maths*applied maths*

Science interdisciplinary project

Core option





Human biology


Broadening option


Graphic communication*

Information systems*

Managing environmental resources

Product design*

Technological studies*




Mandatory component


Languages interdisciplinary project

Core option


Classical Greek*

Gaelic (learners)*









Broadening option


Expressive arts

Mandatory component


OR maths*applied maths*

Expressive arts interdisciplinary project

Core option

Art and design*

Dance practice


Music: performing*

Music: performing with technology*


Broadening option

Graphic communication*


Product design*

Home economics: fashion and technology

Media studies*

Social sciences

Mandatory component


OR maths*applied maths*

Social sciences interdisciplinary project

Core option

Classical studies*




Modern studies*




Religious, moral and philosophical studies*


Broadening option


Business management*

*Available at Advanced Higher.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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