Thursday 6 January 2011

MYRSFO: Scottish Qualifications

I assume that, if I had studied in Scotland and was training to teach Scottish qualifications, I would find these far less bewildering than they actually are. Fortunately, I happen to be married to a Scotsman who has been very helpful with translating for me. Rather than specifications, the list of criteria is referred to as the arrangements on the SQA website.

Standard Grade
There are general and credit levels within this (broadly equivalent to foundation and higher tiers in GCSEs), but for the sake of getting the information down, I've combined the two.
  • State that competition occurs when organisms have a need for the same resources
  • Describe some effects of competition
  • State that a species is a group of interbreeding organisms whose offspring are fertile
  • State that variation can occur within a species
  • Give examples of continuous and discontinuous variation
  • Explain what is meant by continuous and discontinuous variation
Now, what has shocked me is that at Standard Grade, there is absolutely no mention of evolution or natural selection. There is brief mention, in topic 3b, that "Pupils should be aware that selection favours those individuals that leave most surviving offspring. This sub-topic provides opportunities for pupils to investigate ways in which animals achieve this through sexual reproduction". But that is really not good at all. Paul has suggested that evolution might be covered earlier in the curriculum, during general science, but that's not really an excuse.

The Intermediate 1 and 2 qualifications listed are, I understand, more vocational in nature, and as such because I've excluded BTEC and applied science courses for the rest of the UK, I'll exclude them here too. There are some aspects of evolution included in Intermediate 2, which serves to reassure that the Powers That Be do not think that evolutionary biology is only useful to those destined for university.

Highers are equivalent to A-Levels (give or take), and are taken over one year, as far as I am aware.
  • Natural selection:
    - The survival of those organisms best suited to their environment
    - The concept of the species
    - The importance of isolating mechanisms as barriers to gene exchange leading to evolution of new species
    - Adaptive radiation
    - The high-speed evolution of organisms such as antibiotic resistant bacteria and the melanic peppered moth
    - The conservation of species through wildlife reserves, captive breeding and cell banks. The maintenance of genetic diversity
There are some small bits about succession as well, but the majority of the relevant bits are covered in the module on variation and adaptation.

Advanced Higher
Back in the Jurassic period, these were Sixth Year Studies, and students took them in their final year, usually with another couple of Highers for good measure. Since neither Paul nor I really know what these are all about now, so more recent Scottish school leavers feel free to comment. Not all schools would have offered all the SYS subjects, so it is possible that this is still the case.
  • Analysing the genomes of other species. Comparison of the human genome with other species reveals remarkable similarities
  • Biotic interactions:
    - Distinction between biotic and abiotic components of ecosystem; density-dependent and densityindependent factors. Interspecific and intraspecific interactions
  • Predation:
    - Predator/prey population cycles. The role of predators in maintaining diversity in ecosystems by reducing the population density of prey species allowing weaker competitors to survive
    - Defences against predation; camouflage (crypsis and disruptive coloration); warning (aposematic) coloration. Batesian and Mullerian mimicry
  • Competition:
    - Exploitation competition and interference competition. The concept of fundamental niche as a set of resources a species is capable of using. Realised niche as the set of resources actually used due to competition. Resource partitioning. The competitive exclusion principle
  • Symbiosis:
    - Parasitism
    - Commensalism
    - Mutualism
  • The costs, benefits and consequences of interactions
  • Changes in complexity of ecosystems
    - Autogenic succession (primary and secondary succession). The increase in complexity of ecosystems from pioneer through to climax communities. Facilitation of change in early stages. Increase in complexity shown by increase in: diversity of species, variety of habitats and niches, complexity of food webs. Changes in stability and productivity through succession
    - Reference to effects of external factors in allogenic succession and relatively short-term nature of degradative (heterotrophic) successions
  • Evolution of behaviour:
    - Natural selection of behaviour patterns
    - Single gene effect on behaviour
  • Feeding behaviour:
    - Predation strategies
    - Foraging behaviour
    - Defence strategies
  • Sexual behaviour:
    - Male and female investment
    - Courtship and display
Those readers in Scottish universities, this is an absolute gift - almost all aspects of palaeontological research can be related to the specification for Advanced Higher, so knock yourselves out there. I wish that the A-Level specifications had half of this detail, as in my humble opinion this is way more fun and interesting than considering the ethics of performance-enhancing substances.


  1. Advanced Highers are approximately equivalent in content to first year university level (I can certainly speak for Chemistry anyway). They're fantastic courses and also include a required practical research project as part of the assessment.
    Sadly, due to a variety of factors relating to staffing, funding and catering to lowest common denominator classes (*cough* Intermediate *cough*) they're starting to become rarer and rarer in Scottish schools.

  2. The Advanced Highers do look superb, Bob, and I would love to be able to do something like that. The presence of the practical research project is fantastic too - we have some coursework requirement, but it has to be based on the A2 course material, which for Edexcel leaves us with very little leeway.


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