New exam “not worth it”
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.
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