Omission of key topics from biology syllabus sparks anger

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Teachers furious as new Higher course fails to include areas such as evolution and ecology

A major storm has broken over the heads of the Scottish Qualifications Authority - in the unlikely form of the biology syllabus.

Teachers are protesting that the new Higher biology syllabus ignores key areas such as evolution and ecology, and is not fit for purpose.

The SQA, which has produced the draft guidelines for the Higher courses of biology and human biology, has come under particular fire over its Higher biology course. Critics say it is too narrow and applied.

One teacher called it a "biology marketing course - how we can use biology to make money", because of its focus on the applied, technical aspects of three areas of the subject.

Another, Andrew Morton, who was principal examiner for human biology from 1993 to 2008, during which period the number of presentations rose from 450 to 3,500, warned that teachers would not want to teach it and pupils would not study it. As a result, numbers would drop dramatically, he said.

The new syllabus was "written in isolation, with no information about what is coming before or after", missed the "major all-embracing concepts of biology", and read "more like a first or second year university textbook in places", Mr Morton suggested.

It contains three units: medicine, industry (biotechnology) and agriculture. Therefore, it was "really an applied human biology course", but teachers already had a human biology course, he said.

Mr Morton added: "It does not reflect the wonder and excitement of biology in its widest sense; it does not reflect the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence; and it does not give children a wide basis from which to move on to life."

One teacher said: "Higher biology is a `for all' Higher, not preparation for a particular occupation. We are not preparing young people to be farmers or medics or biotechnologists. We may encourage them on that road, but it is not our core responsibility.

"This course completely misses the most important biological concepts: the way in which genes drive evolution and behaviour; and ecology in its widest sense - looking after the environment, biodiversity, adaptation to the environment, and all the mechanisms of control through homeostasis."

Teachers have been given three weeks to respond to the qualifications authority about the new course.

A spokesman for the SQA said it was holding seminars with teachers and encouraging them to participate in the online SQA Academy. This would include debate on the most appropriate place for evolution and other topics, he said.

The authority has given an assurance that all comments will be collated by an independent consultant and these will be used by the Science Steering Group in reaching final decisions.

The group comprises the SQA, the Scottish Government, Learning and Teaching Scotland, HMIE and SSERC (Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre).

Letters, page 20.

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