We take a brief look at the release of Scottish exam results today

Results day gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the current state of affairs of STEM education in Scotland. Exam results, particularly from Higher and Advanced Higher students, help to give a picture of the latest cohort of students coming through the Scottish education system.

In late 2017, the Scottish Government released its STEM Education and Skills Strategy, with the aim to grow STEM literacy in order to drive inclusive economic growth in Scotland. Within the strategy is the desire to enhance and widen the provision of STEM teaching throughout the country and inspire children and adults to study STEM. Although it is never to late to get in to STEM education, schools can provide the environment to inspire future scientists and engineers.

What’s the picture on results day?

While days like today are reserved for celebration or disappointment, we can take a top-down view of the attainment statistics for Higher and Advanced Higher students. 2019 saw the number of STEM subjects taken as a proportion of total Higher examinations sat increase for the first time since 2014, accounting for 29% of entries.

Attainment rates of A – C grades also remain lower for STEM subjects than across the board, alongside the overall trend of falling attainment from 2018 to 2019. Computing and Human Biology have seen amongst the lowest attainment rates of any subject.

It would be unfair for us to speculate on the reasons for these lower attainment rates, however if the Scottish Government are serious about their STEM skills strategy and promoting STEM education this issue must be taken seriously.

At Advanced Higher level, the picture is quite different, with Maths, Chemistry, Biology and Physics comprising four of the five most popular subjects taken up. Indeed, the proportion of students who took STEM subjects at Higher in 2018 who then took the Advanced Higher in 2019 are also amongst some of the highest.

These signs are encouraging, showing that significantly larger proportions of those studying STEM courses continue to take these subjects later in school than in non-STEM subjects. Maths remains the most popular subject to study at Advanced Higher, followed by Chemistry in second spot.

Most popular subjects to continue studying

 Subject

Higher 2018 entries

Advanced Higher 2019 entries

Proportion of those continuing

Music

5,061

1,698

34%

Biology

7,306

2,314

32%

Chemistry

9,992

2,452

25%

Physics

8,280

1,646

20%

Mathematics

18,753

3,706

20%

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