Senior Phase Choices
Subject numbers in S4
The early part of the Committee’s inquiry focussed on the number of subjects studied in S4. Before the introduction of the new structure, pupils were able to study an average of eight subjects across S3 and S4. Now the average is six or seven in one year in S4.
The Committee believes it is evident that there has been a reduction in the number of subjects available to pupils in S4 in most schools since the introduction of the Senior Phase and that this is, at least in part, due to the change in structure.
The Committee acknowledges that a Broad General Education now exists until the end of S3 and that a wider range of subjects and alternative pathways now exist but there are still instances where pupils are unable to choose every subject they wish to study.
Deprivation and Rurality
Another area of debate was the effect of deprivation on the educational experience and subject choices of school pupils.
While there is cross party support for closing the poverty-related attainment gap it is concerning that recent academic research has found that secondary schools in more deprived areas have a more restricted range of subjects available for study, and that the subjects that are available tend to be subjects perceived as being less academic and/or more vocational.
The Committee urges the Scottish Government and Education Scotland to investigate this and to confirm where accountability at a national level for tackling it lies. Whoever is found to be accountable should then work with schools and local authorities to ensure that this issue is tackled effectively.
The Committee would also like alternatives like consortium arrangements (where pupils learn subjects at other schools or colleges) and digital solutions to be explored further.
The Impact on particular subjects
A lot of the evidence the Committee received, especially from teachers, suggested that certain subjects were being particularly disadvantaged by the new curriculum. The Committee concluded that modern languages in particular, as well as Geography and STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) were facing reduced participation.
The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government considers as a matter of urgency how Gaelic uptake can be supported to prevent the sharp drop in the numbers of pupils learning Gaelic in schools from getting worse.
The Committee would like to see the Scottish Government and Education Scotland look in to participation rates in all subjects since the introduction of the Senior Phase.
How have schools responded to the Curriculum?
The Committee didn’t only focus on subject choices but also on how schools are supported to deliver these subjects. They concluded that a one size fits all approach across a local authority did not empower schools to shape the curriculum to fit their pupils’ needs and asks COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) to provide information on how local authorities who do use such models consult with schools and parents and carers to ensure this works for all.
Special consideration should be made for young people who move between schools with significantly different structures and would like the Scottish Government to commission research on how those children’s outcomes are affected.
A key issue that emerged during the inquiry was the issue of multi-level teaching where pupils within a single class are studying towards different levels of qualification in the same subject. The Committee is concerned at the evidence it received which suggests an increase in the use of multi-level teaching
While the Committee accepted that there may be sound reasons for multi-level teaching it believes that it should not be used in response to resourcing issues. In order to assist schools and to provide some rationale for using multi-level teaching the Committee recommends that Education Scotland and the SQA work together to identify which subjects could be compatible with it.
The issue of staffing was frequently referred to by the people who gave evidence to the Committee. One of the reasons that teacher numbers can affect subject choice is that, where schools don’t have adequate staffing levels, teachers will be directed to Senior Phase classes, which affects those in S1-S3.
While it is clear that staffing should remain a matter for local authorities to decide, the Committee was concerned by Education Scotland’s approach to using data on teacher numbers. The Committee recommends that Education Scotland works with the Scottish Government and COSLA to devise an appropriate method of using the data gathered by the Scottish Government and local authorities. This will allow for a better understanding of where issues lie with recruitment and retention of teachers.
The Committee wa also concerned that some schools were resorting to support from businesses and employers to cover gaps in teaching provision.
Many schools use arrangements that allow pupils to travel to other schools to undertake qualifications while remaining registered at their “home” school. 97% of schools who responded to the Headteacher survey also reported collaborating with colleges to offer courses.
The Committee recognises the efforts being made by schools and local authorities to align timetables, which can allow pupils to undertake courses at colleges or other schools but is concerned that there can be barriers which prevent pupils from accessing courses at their closest college if that college is in a different local authority area.
The Committee also invites a response from COSLA which sets out how local authorities consider the impact of consortium arrangements on pupils.
Informing Parents and Carers
Another area considered extensively was how parents and carers were informed about subject choices. The volume of responses the Committee received from parents and carers suggests there is strong feeling on this issue.
The Committee encourages all schools and local authorities to consider whether the information they provide is up-to-date, clearly written, and is provided in a timely manner to allow parents and carers to digest and discuss with their children before they make their subject choices.
The Committee also recommends that the Scottish Government supports COSLA and local authorities in a national campaign, aimed at parents and carers and employers, to explain the new system.
Thanks again to everyone who shared their views and experiences. Keep up to date with news and opportunities to get involved by following the Committee on Twitter.