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Chemistry is the study of substances, what they are made of, how they interact and what role they play in living things.
In fact, it is the study of all materials and it is vital to all aspects of our lives and environment. In the Chemistry Department, we aim to help pupils develop analytical and critical thinking skills to equip them to deal with whatever science they will encounter during their lives. We hope to enable pupils to become scientifically literate, informed and engaged members of society. Pupils are encouraged to take an active part in lessons and we put a high value on the inclusion of practical experiments and demonstrations wherever possible and relevant.
Many of our pupils go on to study scientific degrees, leading to professions such as Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Dentistry, and more still apply the skills that they have gained in Chemistry to a wider range of disciplines.
Chemistry is taught independently of the other sciences from Form 1 onwards, giving pupils a real insight into the subject from day one. The Form 1 course takes a hands-on approach, helping pupils to develop their confidence and practical skills in our dedicated Chemistry laboratories every lesson. Form 2 begins to deal with more theory and explores some of the fundamental concepts which underpin future learning; such as atomic structure and rates of reaction.
Contrary to national trends, Chemistry has a very healthy uptake at National 5 and we teach the course over two years, in Forms 3 and 4. The course is designed to allow pupils the chance to study Chemistry in a relevant and contemporary context. Topics include fertilisers, acids and alkalis, metals, plastics and hydrocarbons.
Higher Chemistry is available for pupils in both Forms 5 and 6 to study, taking a deeper look into the theory behind industrial chemistry, food and consumer products, proteins and fragrances.
In Form 6, pupils have the option to study Advanced Higher Chemistry, which provides an excellent stepping-stone for further scientific study after school. It is taught through lectures and tutorials with practical sessions undertaken in smaller groups in our dedicated and exceptionally well-equipped Advanced Higher laboratory. We are lucky enough, with the aid of grants from the Northwood Trust, to be able to give our Advanced Higher chemists the opportunity to use equipment that would normally be reserved for undergraduate laboratories.
Throughout all our courses we aim to increase practical skills, literacy, numeracy, problem-solving ability and the capacity for independent study. By Form 6, pupils are well prepared for the practical, report-writing and research skills required for further study in tertiary education.
We are very proud of our pupils’ performances in SQA examinations and the department regularly outperforms the national and school averages. 2016 is an excellent example of the high standards that our pupils continue to maintain. At Advanced Higher, 100% of Chemistry pupils obtained either an A or B, with 13 out of 15 securing an A grade. One of our Higher Chemistry candidates achieved the top mark in Scotland, with a number of her peers very close behind, and 71% of all pupils achieved an A grade. National 5 level candidates had a 98% pass rate, with 66% of these passes at A grade.
We have strong links with local universities, who kindly help us to analyse Advanced Higher project work, as well as supplying us with dry ice and support as mentors for CREST Awards. Each autumn term we host visiting fourth year students from the University of St Andrews, who devise and deliver teaching projects as part of their Communication and Teaching in Science module.
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) runs a number of events during the year which we actively participate in. These include the RSC Schools' Analyst, Top of the Bench Competition and we also take a number of pupils to the RSC Christmas Lectures when possible. Our F5 pupils have the opportunity to visit university labs as part of the Sottish Council of Independent Schools Chemistry Masterclass and some pupils have undertaken research projects in various university laboratories supported by Nuffield Research Placements during their summer holidays.
The enthusiasm for Chemistry within the department has resulted in pupils enjoying a rich experience outside the classroom through initiatives such as the L5 Christmas Lecture, L6/L7 and Form 1 Science Clubs and the RSC 'Top of the Bench' quiz team, who ranked 5th at the UK final in 2014.