Slump in number of pupils studying technical subjects

Fewer pupils in Scotland sitting exams in science related subjects and modern languages may lead to skills shortages, warns Labour. 
Photograph: Michael Gillen
Fewer pupils in Scotland sitting exams in science related subjects and modern languages may lead to skills shortages, warns Labour. Photograph: Michael Gillen
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The number of Scots pupils studying vital technical subjects such as maths and science has fallen dramatically, according to new figures.

The number of youngsters sitting Highers in maths, physics and chemistry has slumped in the three years since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, according to analysis of Scotland’s exam results last week by the Labour party.

But the Scottish Government insists that the figures do not give an accurate picture, pointing out that the share of youngsters studying so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects across Scotland’s pupil population is on the rise.

Education has become a political football in recent years after Sturgeon pledged to make it her top priority. The analysis by Labour shows that the number of youngsters sitting maths has fallen 3,000, a 14 per cent decrease, since 2014. The fall since last year was less dramatic with just seven fewer sitting the subject. There has also been a fall of 12 per cent sitting physics Higher since 2014, down 1,254 to just 8,995 in total. Numbers were also down on last year by about 170.

Pupils sitting Highers in biology and human biology were down 7 per cent since 2014, while chemistry numbers were down 11 per cent, although participation in these subjects has increased slightly since 2016.

Previous concerns about the number of Scots youngsters sitting languages are also borne out by last year’s figures which show a 24 per cent drop in youngsters sitting National 5 level French, while Spanish was down by 26 per cent and Italian dropped by 31 per cent.

Labour’s Iain Gray said: “Subjects like science and maths are vital for giving our young people the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future in the industries of tomorrow. Falling numbers of pupils taking modern language qualifications will make it harder for Scotland to do business across the world.”

Ministers insist they are targeting STEM subjects with funding for the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre of £1.3 million for professional learning.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “These claims do not create an accurate picture. For the third consecutive year Higher entries for modern languages have exceeded 8,000, despite a fall in the size of the school year-groups involved.”