No looking bacc, exam chiefs believe

25th June 2010 at 01:00
SQA is bracing itself for an increase in uptake of science and language baccalaureates

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has expressed optimism about the future of the Scottish baccalaureate, despite teething problems in its first year.

The exams body said it had received a raft of enquiries from schools hoping to introduce it next year, prompting hopes that uptake in its second year will be healthier.

School-college partnerships may be key to expansion of the bacc in some parts of the country, the SQA warned, however.

Low uptake of the Scottish Government's flagship qualification in its first year and its lack of availability in schools which run few Advanced Highers have prompted concerns in its first year of running.

Of the original 246 entries, 70 pulled out - 60 from science and 10 from languages - leaving 153 studying for the science bacc and only 23 for the languages one.

But Lorna Grant, the SQA's baccalaureate development manager, told The TESS: "I have had a lot of enquiries about next session and have already started visiting centres. This year, everybody who has been involved in the bacc has been really positive about it - pupils and teachers alike. There may have been some teething problems but those have been overcome."

Scottish baccalaureates in science and languages were introduced last August for S6 pupils and require participants to research and present an inter-disciplinary project, in addition to studying two relevant Advanced Highers and one Higher.

Its focus on Advanced Highers drew criticism from School Leaders Scotland (SLS), which represents secondary headteachers. Its members fear that some schools will be unable to offer such teaching-intensive subjects as a result of cutbacks.

Universities have so far refused to give bacc holders priority for places as the award is not available in all schools. The bacc is, however, recognised by the admissions service, UCAS, for university applications.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of SLS, said: "If the SQA is getting indications from centres that they can run it, then that's great. But the fear is that it becomes a bit of a postcode lottery."

He added that the award could not become an "identifying feature" of university admissions while it was not available universally.

Pupils who did the bacc this year presented their projects and shared their experiences at a conference at Stirling University last week.

They told senior pupils and teachers the bacc had equipped them well for higher education. They praised the focus on independent study and said it provided a good transition between school and university.

Charley Sayer Payne, from Wallace High in Stirling, studied for her science interdisciplinary project at Forth Valley College - part of the school's partnership scheme designed to allow pupils to participate in the award. Working with students outside her school had had a positive social impact, she said.

Ms Grant predicts such partnerships could be key to giving more pupils the chance to take the qualification. "There is an increase in college participation in the coming session, so this may be a way forward where schools are having difficulty to offer at that level," she said.

She also dismissed concerns over drop-out rates of those sitting the qualification. A third of candidates failed to complete the bacc in its first year, but this is part of a "sixth-year syndrome" where pupils drop courses because they receive university places or because of pressure to gain other exam passes, according to Ms Grant.

scoted@tes.co.uk.

CASE STUDIES

Rachel Green, St Kentigern's Academy, West Lothian

With a keen interest in languages, Rachel studied French, Italian and English at Higher in fifth year and Italian and English at Advanced Higher in her sixth year. Using these skills, she contacted schools in France and Italy and worked with them to launch an e-magazine for her inter- disciplinary project.

She sought to "promote better appreciation of other cultures" by asking younger children at her school to contribute articles to the magazine on their interests, which she then edited. "It was such an exciting thing to do in sixth year; I was working with young pupils and gave something back in that sense," she said.

Next year, she will be going to Glasgow University to study English and Italian, and believes the baccalaureate has helped prepare her for independent study and managing her time in higher education.

Jamie Orr, Jordanhill School, Glasgow

Working with fellow S6 student Nathan Delagado, Jamie organised a two-day conference for primary pupils, exploring new types of renewable energy. The event included drama workshops to help engage the young audience.

The pair divided the workload so they could work to their strengths to get it all done - one working with external contacts and the other liaising with others in the school. They also gave the pupils questionnaires before and after the conference to see how much they had learned and what they could improve on for future events.

Jamie enjoyed the practical elements, finding himself in meetings during his free periods and speaking to teachers as an adult, rather than revising for "exam-centric" subjects which he found frustrating. He studied Advanced Higher chemistry, Advanced Higher biology and Higher psychology as part of the award, which he believes will stand him in good stead for the pressures of studying biomedical science at university.

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