Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Around the UK: Scotland

Ken Cunningham looks at the pros and cons of the proposed Scottish Baccalaureate.

It was only a matter of time before the Scottish government finally announced its plans for a Scottish Baccalaureate. Though it wasn't a surprise, it was met with a mixed response. The Scottish Bacc really isn't anything like others on the market and has positives and negatives potentially associated with it.

As readers know from previous articles, Scotland is in the midst of a fairly major reform of both curriculum and assessment arrangements but, while these are still very much under development and discussion, the Bacc is due to go ahead, with the first students being presented in August 2009 and the first awards the following year.

What will it look like?

There will be two major emphases to start: in science and languages. The intention is to encourage more young people to study these areas in the later stages of secondary with a view to assisting the transition to higher and further education and employment. The composition of the science award is:

  • two science courses from the eligible list

  • a mathematics course

  • interdisciplinary project

Any two of the above will be at Advanced Higher level, which is roughly equivalent to A level, with one at the Higher level. The interdisciplinary project will be at AH and graded A, B or C. In languages the composition of the award is:

  • two language courses from the eligible list

  • an English/Gaidhlig/ESOL course

  • interdisciplinary project

Again, two of the courses should be at Advanced Higher, with one at Higher. The languages may be modern or classical and the interdisciplinary project will be at AH and graded A, B or C.

There is a reasonable range of eligible courses, which will be kept under review by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

Both of the Baccs will be achieved at pass or distinction. A pass will require passes in all courses and the interdisciplinary project. A distinction will require A in one Advanced Higher, one other A in any component and at least B in all other components.

Students will also be able to study other subjects outside the Bacc choices.

Pros and cons

There have been some positive responses to the proposals, especially with regard to the potential of the interdisciplinary project to challenge students and introduce problem-solving skills held in high regard by HE and some employers. There is a feeling that it will also raise awareness of the need for more science and languages graduates. It has the potential of easing the transition to HE and may even give students additional credit. And it is seen as sitting comfortably with the four capacities emphasised in a Curriculum for Excellence.

The problem lies in what might happen. It is dependent on what tariff rating is given it by universities and UCAS. If it doesn't have significant added value, students will continue to go for the safe bets for entry to HE. Negotiations on that move apace. It might be a bit chicken and egg as HE awaits the quality and depth of the interdisciplinary project - they are already secure about the quality of the Advanced Higher generally.

There is, of course, much work to be done and certainly time would add significantly to the potential range and quality of what could be an exciting and challenging piece of work for students at an appropriate time in their studies.

However, resourcing such courses will be very difficult in many schools with a limited number of academic students and in a time of economic crisis which is putting extreme pressure on staffing levels and physical resources.

I fear it will not be high up the list of priorities for many, if not most, heads. If that is the case, it will be very important that we do not exaggerate an already deepening divide between the haves and the have-nots. The post code lottery of funding is bad enough at present.

Ken Cunningham is General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland.

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