A fascinating report, published on Friday by the Royal Society into the proportion of students in post compulsory education studying maths and the sciences in UK nations, shows that Scotland is performing at a very high level in comparative terms.
I believe it’s crucial we take account of such “good news stories” as we consider Curriculum for Excellence – sometimes we are only too prepared to believe the “worst” and forget the strengths in our existing system. However, although we seem to be doing well in post compulsory education I still think there is a great deal to do to improve science education in upper primary and lower secondary.
The report highlights that in 2007 12 per cent of 16 year olds in Scotland sat Higher physics, the most beleaguered of the school sciences. This compares with just 3.6 per cent of 17 year olds studying A-level physics in England, 4.8 per cent in Northern Ireland and 2.8 per cent in Wales.
In the same year 28 per cent of 16 years olds in Scotland sat Higher maths, compared with 8.1 per cent studying the subject in England.
14 per cent of 17 years olds in Scotland sat Higher chemistry, compared with 5.3 per cent studying A-level in chemistry in England.
For biology the figures were 18.7 percent in Scotland and 7.2 per cent in England.
Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Royal Society said: “Scotland is currently outperforming its UK neighbours in encouraging young people to carry on their studies in maths and the sciences. The differences are not just a few percent, they are major.
“This is partly because of the broader curriculum in Scotland compared to the other UK nations. But it may also be related to a stronger tradition of teaching the sciences separately and the fact that practically all Scottish maths and science teachers are specialists.
“At a time when there is widespread concern about there being enough people with these skills, the other UK countries need to look what they can learn by examining why Scotland is doing so well.”
However, between 1996 and 2007 the proportions of 16 and 17 year olds in all the UK nations, including Scotland, taking chemistry, physics and mathematics have actually shrunk.
In Scotland the proportion of 16 year olds students taking Higher physics fell by 7 per cent between 1996 and 2007. The percentage of Higher students studying chemistry and maths both fell by four per cent over the same time period. Biology has fared better, dropping by 1.7 per cent.
Professor Dame Julia Higgins, Chair of the report’s working group, said: “A high quality education in science and maths is central to sustaining a thriving economy. Unfortunately our report shows that education in the UK is failing to provide the increases in the numbers of school leavers with the qualifications in these subjects required by industry, business and the research community to assure the UK’s future economic competitiveness.”