New exam “not worth it”

The Scotsman - - Front Page - FIONA MACLEOD

Sev­eral of Scot­land’s lead­ing pri­vate schools have cast doubt on the ben­e­fits of study­ing the new flag­ship Scot­tish Bac­calau­re­ate, in­tro­duced for the first time this year.

SCOT­LAND’S top-per­form­ing school is to stop of­fer­ing pupils the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s flag­ship ed­u­ca­tion award in a move that casts fur­ther doubt on the qual­i­fi­ca­tion’s cred­i­bil­ity, The

Scots­man can re­veal. Ge­orge He­riot’s, which tops a league ta­ble of in­de­pen­dent schools’ Higher re­sults pub­lished to­day, said the Scot­tish Bac­calau­re­ate was costly, time­con­sum­ing and, cru­cially, not recog­nised by uni­ver­si­ties.

Other lead­ing in­de­pen­dent schools said that al­though the award was worth­while, uni­ver­si­ties val­ued it less than equiv­a­lent qualifications.

Ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary Michael Rus­sell said last week he was still try­ing to per­suade Scot­tish uni­ver­si­ties to recog­nise the exam as part of en­trance re­quire­ments. It is un­der­stood none in Scot­land has made an of­fer of a place based on the new cer­tifi­cate.

Ge­orge He­riot’s head­mas­ter Alis­tair Hector said: “There is a na­tional dis­ap­point­ment about the up­take of the Bac­calau­re­ate and it does rep­re­sent an aw­ful lot of work for staff.

“There are is­sues to do with method­ol­ogy and they don’t have cur­rency with uni­ver­si­ties so there is the ques­tion, ‘What is the value added?’.

“The pupils who did it got an aw­ful lot out of it but it was a lot of work and we doubt the ul­ti­mate worth, so we are not of­fer­ing it next year.

“It is re­source-in­ten­sive and High­ers re­main the gold-stan­dard in Scot­land, and re­main the qual­i­fi­ca­tion by which Scot­tish uni­ver­si­ties award their places.”

The fig­ures pub­lished to­day by the Scot­tish Coun­cil for In­de­pen­dent Schools (SCIS) re­veal record exam pass rates for all pri­vate schools north of the Border, with 51 per cent of all pupils achiev­ing an A-grade at Higher.

The over­all pass rate for the new qualifications was 76.8 per cent, sim­i­lar to the Higher pass rate of 74.6 per cent and the Ad­vanced Higher at 77.5 per cent.

There was a 13 per cent rise in A-grades at Ad­vanced Higher, with 44 per cent achiev­ing the top grade com­pared to 39 per cent last year.

The Scot­tish Bac­calau­re­ate con­sists of a min­i­mum of two Ad­vanced High­ers and a Higher from a sub­ject list, plus a dis­ser­ta­tion-style project cho­sen by the pupils. It is only avail­able in sci­ence and lan­guages at the mo- ment, and plans to ex­pand it to other sub­ject group­ings in­clud­ing so­cial sci­ences are on hold un­til up­take im­proves.

He­riot’s had the high­est pro­por­tion of top-grade dis­tinc­tions in the Bac­calau­re­ate, with four of the five can­di­dates achiev­ing the high­est grad­ing. In the first year that in­de­pen­dent school pupils took the new award, 91 per cent of the 44 tak­ing the qual­i­fi­ca­tion passed with an A-C grade. Mor­ri­son’s Academy in Cri­eff had just one pupil tak­ing a Bac­calau­re­ate and, al­though the school in­tends to of­fer it to more pupils next year, it is also scep­ti­cal.

Rec­tor Simon Pengelley said teach­ers were ad­vis­ing those ap­ply­ing to Ox­ford and Cam­bridge to ig­nore it, al­though the school would con­tinue to of­fer the qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

He said: “Uni­ver­si­ties don’t un­der­stand the value so they are not giv­ing it credit. We ad­vise can­di­dates who are look­ing south of the Border and at ap­ply­ing to Ox­ford and Cam­bridge to con­cen­trate on get­ting good grades in three Ad­vanced High­ers and not the Bac­calau­re­ate.”

Only four other schools of­fered the qual­i­fi­ca­tion: Craigholme in Glas­gow, Dol­lar in Clack­man­nan­shire, Hutch­esons’ in Glas­gow and St Columba’s in Kil­ma­colm.

St Columba’s, which came top of The Scots­man’s Higher re­sults ta­ble last year, will con­tinue to of­fer the Bac­calau­re­ate af­ter one pupil achieved a pass.

Rec­tor David Gird­wood said: “It is cer­tainly not recog­nised by uni­ver­si­ties but the idea that pupils un­der­take an in­ter-dis­ci­plinary project is a good one.”

He de­scribed the fo­cus on an in­de­pen­dent project as “worth­while” – but did not ad­vise pupils to take it.

He said: “I would pre­fer can­di­dates to un­der­take three Ad­vanced High­ers rather than tak­ing two plus the Bac­calau­re­ate.”

He said eight pupils had in­di­cated they wished to take the qual­i­fi­ca­tion next year but added that Ad­vanced High­ers should be their pri­or­ity.

“I would not wish a pupil to drop out of an Ad­vanced Higher at the ex­pense of the Bac­calau­re­ate,” he added.

The qualifications were an SNP elec­tion man­i­festo pledge in 2007 and were aimed at en­cour­ag­ing more pupils to take lan­guages and sci­ences at an ad­vanced level. Busi­ness lead­ers have backed the qual­i­fi­ca­tion, but just 139 pupils took the exam in its first year, with many drop­ping out af­ter it was re­alised they would not be recog­nised by uni­ver­si­ties. The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity took the sci­ence ver­sion, with just 19 com­plet­ing the lan­guages Bac­calau­re­ate.

Mr Rus­sell said: “Bac­calau­re­ates are ex­tremely im­por­tant and have gone very well, and I fully ex­pect that year on year across Scot­land they are go­ing to build up.

“It will be my aim to keep talk­ing to uni­ver­si­ties to make sure they ac­cept the qual­i­fi­ca­tion as a whole and I see no rea­son why that shouldn’t hap­pen.”

To­day’s fig­ures also show en­tries at Stan­dard grade, which is to be re­placed by new Scot­tish Na­tional ex­ams in 2014, fell by 8 per cent while In­ter­me­di­ate rose by the same pro­por­tion. Nearly 100 per cent of Stan­dard grades were passed at A-C grade.

Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ge­orge Lind­say-Wat­son.

Ge­orge He­riot’s came out top in the High­ers league ta­ble

Stu­dents should care­fully con­sider what ex­ams they sit

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