September 6, 2008

Scots Pupils Are Top of Science Class


SCOTLAND'S great tradition of scientific study is continuing, with more teenagers choosing to study science subjects than anywhere else in the UK.

The Royal Society's findings come amid fears that the nation is producing too few science graduates at the risk of the economy. Business leaders said the statistics were good news, but that still more pupils must choose sciences to ensure economic success.

The research found more Scottish youngsters took exams in physics, chemistry, biology and maths. Experts attributed the trend to Scotland's historic reputation for engineering and science, and to the wealth of career opportunities in those areas north of the Border.

Last year, 12 per cent of 16-year-olds sat Higher physics, compared with 3.6 per cent of 17-year-olds studying the subject at A- level in England, 4.8 per cent in Northern Ireland and 2.8 per cent in Wales. In the same year, 28 per cent sat Higher maths in Scotland, compared with 8.1 per cent taking the subject in England.

In chemistry, 14 per cent of pupils in Scotland sat the Higher, compared with 5.3 per cent studying the A-level in England. For biology, the figures were 18.7 per cent in Scotland and 7.2 per cent in England.

The society said the figures were so much higher in Scotland that they overcame the fact pupils in Scotland take up to six Highers, while in the rest of the UK they usually sit only three A-levels.

Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society, said: "Scotland is 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 per cent - 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."

But the study found also that the proportion of pupils taking maths and the sciences between 1996 and 2007 had fallen.

CBI Scotland welcomed the findings, but said business wanted to see still more youngsters choosing science and technology subjects. Iain Ferguson, CBI Scotland's policy executive, said it was crucial for businesses to have a good flow of graduates with qualifications in science.

He backed the Scottish Government's attempt to encourage teenagers to choose science via a new science baccalaureate and said: "While no-one thinks it is the silver bullet which will solve this issue in one fell strike, it's a very positive step."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman described the figures as encouraging.

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