Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Curriculum and Attainment


  8.  Between the ages of five and 16 all pupils study science as part of a programme of general education. These science courses make a major contribution to the public understanding of science through focusing on key scientific concepts and on the applications of the sciences in society. All courses have clearly defined content (knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes), are extensively supported by advice to teachers about matters such as teaching and learning approaches, assessment, suggested learning activities (to develop practical and problem solving skills), meeting pupils' needs and health and safety. All courses promote a balanced approach to teaching and learning of theory and practical work. An investigative approach is taken at all levels. All major concepts are covered at an appropriate level and the examples are chosen because of their relevance eg Standard Grade (SG) physics includes topics on health physics, space physics and telecommunication.

  9.  SG courses in biology, chemistry and physics are offered at two levels, Credit and General. SG science is offered at three levels, Credit, General and Foundation.

  10.  Between the ages of 14 and 16, all pupils study one SG science course from biology, chemistry, physics and science. About 25-30 per cent of pupils also study an additional one or two science subjects. Throughout the 70s, 80s and early 90s there was steady growth in the uptake of these science courses. Over the last two or three years this has stabilised. The long-standing tradition of biology proving popular with girls (3:1 in favour of girls at 2001) and physics with boys (2.5:1 in favour of boys at 2001) has proved very difficult to shift. Chemistry is equally popular with boys and girls (at 2001).

  11.  Between 1993 and 2000 the number of pupils taking SG sciences saw small variations between subjects. Biology was up 3.4 per cent to 34.9 per cent, Chemistry remained steady at approx. 36 per cent. Physics dropped from 33.4 per cent to 30.1 per cent over the same period.

  12.  Between the ages of 16 and 18 the uptake of Higher Grade (HG) courses in the sciences is high. After English and mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology are the third, fourth and fifth most popular HG subjects (at 2000). Between 1974 and 1994 there was steady growth in the uptake of HG science subjects. Between 1994 and 2000 there was a decrease in the number of pupils taking HG sciences. Chemistry was down from 10.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent of the school roll. Physics was down from 10.4 per cent to 8.7 per cent and biology was down from 7.6 per cent to 6.8 per cent. The drop in biology has been offset by the uptake of the new Higher Grade course in Human Biology. If Human Biology is added to the figures then Biology/Human Biology combined had over 8,600 presentations as at 2000.

  13.  About 50 per cent of pupils who leave school with HG passes include at least one HG pass in a science subject.

    23 per cent had passed one HG science subject.

    19 per cent had passed two HG science subjects.

    7 per cent had passed three HG science subjects.

  14.  In S6, the uptake of Certificate of Sixth Year Studies (CSYS)/Advanced Higher (AH) courses in the sciences has increased steadily over the last decade. The per cent increase over this period is about 20 per cent for physics, 17 per cent for chemistry and 83 per cent for biology. These courses have proved popular with pupils in giving them a sound foundation for higher education.

  15.  The Higher Still (HS) programme began implementation in schools and Further Education (FE) colleges in 1999. All of the new National Qualifications (NQs) (arising from the HS programme) in the sciences is available for use in FE colleges. In S5 and S6, courses are offered at five levels, namely Advanced Higher, Higher, Intermediate 2, Intermediate 1 and Access. Almost all courses are made up of three 40-hour content units and one 40-hour assessment unit. Courses have been organised as two-year packages although pupils may decide to take only one year. These courses have been designed to articulate with S3/S4 provision at SG as follows:

S3/S4 (SG)
Advanced Higher
Intermediate 2
Intermediate 1
Intermediate 2

  16.  Courses will be offered at all levels in biology, chemistry and physics. Access courses are designed to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs. In addition, new applied courses have been introduced in areas such as biotechnology, electronics, geology and managing environmental resources (MER). Pupils will be able to take units from these courses or complete courses to complement their studies in more "mainline" areas of science. Hopefully, this new provision will lead to enhanced understanding at each level. Furthermore, more pupils should leave school with qualifications in the sciences.

  17.  The most popular subject combination of pupils taking five Higher Grades in S5 is English, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. This combination is taken by around 700 pupils per year. Many also take English, mathematics, two sciences and one other subject. The most popular subject combination of pupils taking four Higher Grades is English, mathematics, chemistry and physics (around 700 pupils) followed by English, mathematics, biology and chemistry (around 400). This reflects the popularity of science subjects at school level. It also indicates the important role that HE courses in the pure and applied sciences, including medicine, veterinary medicine and engineering, play in promoting the study of sciences at school.

  18.  The new NQs should help to promote interest in the sciences since all levels of provision from Access to Advanced Higher will be available for use in FE colleges, either working on their own or in partnership with schools. This in turn should feed into higher levels of provision in FE and HE. This should help some universities where there may be local shortage of science undergraduates.


  19.  The primary aims of the science curriculum for this age group (14 to 18) vary depending on the course level. For example, at the Intermediate stage, the National Course Specification (NCS) course details for Physics explains that the course will "assist candidates in making their own reasoned decisions on many issues within a modern society increasingly dependent on science and technology". Whereas, at Higher Grade, the NCS for Chemistry explains "a grounding for the future study of chemistry and chemistry-related subjects in higher education is provided for candidates who wish to pursue a career in a science-based area". Essentially, the impetus and goal to pursue a future career in science grows as the student advances through the levels and the balance between education for life and education for career switches.


  20.  Within the curriculum for Physics, Biology and Chemistry, practical work forms an important integrated component. Practical work is designed in co-ordination with theoretical exercises and should therefore create a bridge between mental analysis to actual experimentation and then explaining within their theoretical knowledge the findings of their experimental procedures. This creates a 50/50 split and synergy between practical and theoretical. Not all practical work is assessed but there should be assessment based around illustrative experiments, techniques and investigations. Practical abilities are assessed internally throughout the duration of the course, whereas theoretical understanding is assessed through external examination.


  21.  At SG, about 50-65 per cent of pupils presented gain Credit level awards in the separate sciences each year. About 25-40 per cent gain General level awards. The remainder gain Foundation level awards. In SG science about 5 per cent of pupils gain Credit awards, 55 per cent General awards and the remainder Foundation awards.

  22.  At HG the proportion of S5/S6 pupils presented and achieving awards is as follows:

"A" awards (per cent)
"A-C" awards (per cent)

  23.  In summary, at SG and HG, consistently high standards are continuing to be achieved. However, it is hoped that at SG more pupils achieve better grades and at S5/S6 the implementation of Higher Still provision will lead to even higher standards across all levels of award. The main problem regarding the relevance of the science curriculum is that more fashionable courses such as computer science, psychology and business studies are being seen as more desirable and useful than the conventional educational sciences. The last five years have seen a drop in Scottish universities for applications to these courses: chemistry—27 per cent drop; physics—19 per cent drop; biology—8 per cent drop.


Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) levels:
Level sevenCSYS at A-C; Advanced Higher at A-C
Level sixHigher at A-C
Level fiveIntermediate two at A-C; Standard Grade at 1 - 2
Level fourIntermediate one at A-C; Standard Grade at 3 - 4
Level threeAccess three Cluster; Standard Grade at 5 - 6

  24.  The table above sets out the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework levels and read across to the National Qualification levels and grades.

  25.  New National Qualifications: Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2 and Higher were introduced in 1999-2000. Advanced Highers were introduced for the first time this exam year 2000-01. Courses are made up of internally assessed units and an external examination. Courses are awarded at A-C or Compensatory.

  26.  Awards at A-C are regarded as passes (but see note below on Compensatory Awards). Pupils who pass the examination but are not registered as passing all the units are included in the number of presentations (but not a course pass).

  27.  Compensatory Awards: Pupils who narrowly fail to achieve the required standard for Intermediate 2 are awarded a compensatory Intermediate one qualification. Those narrowly failing to achieve the required standard for Higher are awarded a compensatory Intermediate 2 qualification. Those narrowly failing to achieve the required standard for Advanced Higher are awarded a compensatory Higher qualification.

  28.  Standard Grade is certificated at three levels: Credit (grades 1 and 2), General (grades 3 and 4), Foundation (grades 5 and 6) with a grade 7 being awarded to those who complete the course only.

  29.  Data for Higher exams includes the new National Qualifications Higher award. An award at A to C for both types of Higher is regarded as a pass.

  30.  A CSYS (Certificate of Sixth Year Studies) course is awarded at A-E with awards at A-C regarded as a pass. This type of exam has now been replaced by Advanced Highers.

March 2002

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