Most Scots schools delay new Higher exams in science

Exam hall Image copyright PA
Image caption Highers are being modified to come into line with other new qualifications

Most schools have delayed introducing new look Highers in science subjects, according to official figures.

Just 35% the entries for a science Higher will sit one of the revamped exams.

Changes are being made to Highers to fit them in with the National 4 and 5 qualifications that replaced Standard Grades.

But many schools or councils have opted to keep the old exams in some subjects for one final year.

Overall though, it looks like a record number of Highers will be sat this year - the majority in the new look exams.

The Highers are being modified to help align them more closely with other changes in schools, especially the National 5 qualifications which replaced Credit level passes in Standard Grades.

This means changes to the curriculum in some subjects and changes to the formats of some exams.

However, the new and old Highers are directly equivalent to each other - which one a student sits should make no difference to their job prospects, or their chances of getting a place at college or university.

Challenging year

The changes - which are far less radical than the replacement of Standard Grades - were always due to be phased in over two years. One reason for that is that sixth year students would often have studied for a subject at Standard Grade level earlier or would already have completed the old Higher course and be re-sitting.

In other cases, there might have been too few students in a particular subject to justify teaching both the old and new Higher courses.

The EIS had called for the new Highers to be delayed for a year to allow the new National 4 and 5 qualifications to bed in first. Some teachers said last year was one of the most challenging of their careers and were concerned about the prospect of another change so quickly.

The government decided against this but said schools and councils could choose to let S5 students study for the old Highers if it was in their best academic interests.

In English, 61% of entries are for the new Higher but in Maths the figure is 51%. Some of those sitting the old Higher will be sixth years.

Overall there are 217,967 provisional Higher entries this year across all subjects - up 5% on the corresponding figure at this time last year. The actual figure is likely to be different as some candidates may not go ahead and sit the exam. 120,557 of the entries are for the new Higher.

By next year, only the new Highers will be available.

Higher choices

Education Secretary Angela Constance, visiting a school in Edinburgh, said it was right that schools had been able to choose which of the Higher courses to offer.

She said: "We listened to schools who requested flexibility and we acted. I have seen today how schools are making good use of this flexibility to phase in the new qualifications in a sensible way."

Overall Ms Constance welcomed the record number of provisional Higher entries.

Deciding whether to delay the new Highers was often a difficult decision for schools and councils.

On the one hand, the new Higher is designed to flow on seamlessly from the new National 5 qualification although, inevitably, its introduction could add to the workload of teachers for one year.

On the other hand, delaying was not straightforward either. Sometimes this could mean more work for students and teachers - for instance where a particular concept in the old Higher was not taught in the National 5.

'Additional workload'

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of teachers union EIS, said the introduction of the new qualifications had brought increased workload and stress for teachers.

He said: "The EIS is interested to note that 45% of pupils will sit the existing Higher this session, with a significant number of schools having opted out of the new Higher for this year.

"Schools and teachers know what is best for their pupils and it is clear that, for this year, many believe that the existing Higher is the preferable choice.

"It is clear that the additional workload demands on teachers remain considerable and little has been delivered, by way of additional support and resources, to help alleviate this burden."

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