Decision to scrap sciences was 'ill-judged', claim experts

2nd March 2012 at 00:00
Dropping geology and biotechnology will harm Scotland's economy, they argue

The decision to remove geology and bio-technology from Scotland's science qualifications portfolio was "ill-judged" and "ill-timed" and will serve Scotland's economy poorly, according to a group charged with improving performance in science, engineering and maths.

The subjects were scrapped, according to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, because of low uptake among pupils. But members of the group disagreed, arguing: "These are essentially low access - not low uptake - subjects."

Geology and biotechnology would have been of wide interest to young people, had they been more widely available, argued the Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group (SEEAG) in its report, published this week, which criticised the "narrowness" of the science base in Scottish education.

"The loss of subjects with central relevance to the economy of Scotland in the 21st century reflects a lack of the vision and support," it said.

Rather than reducing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, more should be made available through web- supported distance learning, with practical aspects taught centrally at key hub schools, colleges or universities, it added.

Scotland was too focused on the three "big sciences" - biology, chemistry and physics - according to the group, which was co-chaired by Anne Glover, former chief scientific adviser for Scotland, and Ian Wall, founder of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

This problem could be exacerbated by the freedom afforded by Curriculum for Excellence to schools to determine the extent of their own science offering.

SEEAG also called for the creation of a Scottish version of England's Teach First programme, which parachutes "exceptional graduates" into difficult schools after six weeks of training. Thus far, the programme's introduction here has been resisted by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

According to SEEAG, the scheme could improve the retention and recruitment of "talented and high-quality science graduates into the teaching profession".

Responding to the report, the Scottish Government announced pound;600,000 over the next three years for dedicated science teacher CPD and additional funding to boost primary teachers' confidence in delivering science lessons.


Stuart Farmer, head of physics at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, was the only teacher on the Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group.

He said the report focused on providing teachers with the CPD, resources and technician support they needed to give their pupils a good-quality STEM experience.

That was why the group had called for professional development for STEM teachers to increase to 50 hours per year, and for primary teachers to devote at least 15 hours per year to STEM CPD, he said.

"Hands-on doing" in the classroom by all pupils was the core of good science and engineering learning, Mr Farmer added. Schools, therefore, needed adequate budgets for materials, equipment and science technicians, he said.

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