Actually, the Scottish Qualifications Authority has done pretty well this year

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by a Newsnet reader

Despite the rather odd and frankly puzzling reaction from Labour/Lib Dem MSPs berating the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s ‘mistake’ of sending pupils their exam results a day early – a move which was applauded by them last year but this year became their educational cause célèbre … actually it ended up quite the damp squib of ‘Sound and Fury’ – the SQA has done pretty well with respect to encouraging the uptake of the sciences in schools.

Scotland’s school pupils had been lagging behind other countries in both maths and sciences.  The worry for the government and industry was that there would be insufficient qualified engineers in the future to drive the economy forward.

Between 2000 and 2006, pupils studying Higher chemistry had decreased by 9% and those studying Higher physics had decreased by 15%.  The Scottish Science Advisory Committee concluded there was an “urgent need” to make science education more relevant and exciting in Scottish schools.

The SQA said much work had been done to ensure science exams were now relevant and interesting.  This, combined with excellent modern TV science programmes, such as Blast Lab and Space Hoppers on CBBC, is helping attract young people to science.

As a result, from a situation where those taking up the harder sciences had been in steady decline for more than a decade, the SQA figures show 1000 +  additional candidates sat biology, chemistry and physics exams in 2011 compared to 2010.

The trend had been for students to choose ‘fashionable courses’ which offered them little chance at all of finding employment later.   Students now realise that taking on the harder subjects will provide them with well-paid careers which would be otherwise totally unavailable to them.

However it’s not all good news, despite the success of more pupils sitting science Highers, there was bad news for modern languages.  The number of French, German and Italian Higher candidates all fell, with Spanish being the notable exception actually showing an increase.

Bill Maxwell, head of HM Inspectorate of Education, has accused some schools of sidelining modern languages and reiterated the aim that schools should offer a broad general education: “Some schools are mistakenly making the study of modern languages optional, saying they want to reinforce the idea of personalisation of the curriculum.”

That being said, there is some welcome good news with respect to languages.  Students at Scotland’s largest Gaelic school celebrated their Higher maths results following the SQA decision to translate maths exam papers into Gaelic for the very first time.

Higher candidates could choose either English or Gaelic papers for mathematics following the SQA’s decision to expand the number of subjects offered in Gaelic (Standard grades in geography, history, maths and modern studies are already available in Gaelic).

Students have been learning maths in Glasgow Gaelic school in both English and Gaelic since the school opened five years ago.  Students are totally immersed from primary up to secondary and have been taught maths in Gaelic from primary 1, consequently some candidates naturally find maths questions easier to understand and answer in Gaelic.

Both staff and students welcomed the Gaelic Higher maths pilot exam and it seems to have been a popular success.  Students agree that pupils should definitely have the option of both English and Gaelic in future.

An SQA spokesman affirmed the authority’s “strong commitment” to the Gaelic-speaking community: “Gàidhlig exams are available at all levels from Access 3 to Advanced Higher.”

Well done the students in Glasgow Gaelic school and a well deserved round of applause for the SQA.