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Scottish Qualifications Authority Consultation

Posted 01/09/2015

The Learned Societies Group on Scottish Science Education (LSG), which is facilitated by the RSE, has responded to the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee consultation on the work and outcomes of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). The LSG’s focus is on the developments in science and mathematics.

The LSG recognises that the implementation process for the new qualifications has been challenging, particularly as SQA has had to deliver so rapidly a new system without any piloting. It has also had to manage the complexity of the range of qualifications available during the transitional period of the school reforms.

An underpinning message in the LSG response is the absence of a strategic approach to the implementation programme for Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and the new national qualifications in Scotland. There is a need to independently evaluate these reforms in order to develop a proper understanding of how they are working and how to improve the system. This is a challenge which extends beyond the SQA and is one that needs to be addressed by those managing the reforms.

The LSG is monitoring the implications of the national qualifications on uptake and attainment in the sciences and mathematics. The LSG notes that between 2014 and 2015 the number of Higher entries decreased across the sciences and mathematics. Computing-related presentations (which includes Information Systems) are down by 15.4%; Chemistry is down by 4.6%; Physics is down by 4.2%; Biology is down by 4.1%; and Mathematics is down by 3.6%.

The LSG also notes that it seems to be more difficult to achieve a pass in the sciences and mathematics compared to other subjects at National 5 level. The LSG is concerned about the implications that this might have on influencing learners’ course choices.

The LSG also comments on the circumstances surrounding the new Higher Mathematics examination which has generated considerable debate. In order to make a determination as to why things transpired as they did, a range of factors would need to be fully considered. This would include: question paper difficulty; the way in which the questions were framed (and interpreted); learners’ preparedness for the examination; the circumstances surrounding the operation and experience of the examiner and setting team; and the quality assurance processes.

The full response is available from here.

The LSG comprises representatives from the: Association for Science Education; BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT; Edinburgh Mathematical Society; Engineering Policy Group in Scotland; Institute of Physics; Royal Society of Biology; Royal Society of Chemistry; Royal Society of Edinburgh; and Scottish Mathematical Council. For more information on the LSG visit the webpage.

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