Gap between schools over Higher choices is ‘alarming’

Some children take courses in other schools to access specific Higher subjects. Picture: John Devlin
Some children take courses in other schools to access specific Higher subjects. Picture: John Devlin
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Schools a few miles apart are offering pupils in Scotland a vastly different number of subjects to study for exams playing a vital part in determining their future higher education and career chances, figures released today show.

In some local authorities there is a significant difference between the school offering the greatest number of exam subjects at Higher level to those offering the least.

In Edinburgh, Leith Academy offers 29 subjects – the largest number in the city – while Castlebrae Community High offers just eight.

The Highlands – one of the regions suffering most from teacher recruitment problems – show the biggest discrepancy, with a gap of 24 between schools: Dingwall Academy offers 35 subjects, while Kinlochbervie High school offers 11.

Liz Smith MSP, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman, said parents would be “alarmed” and said differences were connected to difficulties recruiting teachers.

In Glasgow, schools relatively close together geographically vary from 13 subjects on offer up to 27.

Scottish Tories used Freedom of Information legislation to obtain the information from 28 local authorities.

The figures come as some councils become increasingly concerned about their inability to fill vacant teaching posts, and as fears grow about the delivery of curriculum for excellence.

Ms Smith described the situation as “unacceptable”. She said: “There will always be some very understandable variation in subject choice across different schools of rural and urban differences, depending on the size of school and different pupil cohorts. But parents will be alarmed to see the extent of the variation.

“They will be even more concerned when they learn there is some correlation between lower choice options and those local authorities experiencing higher teacher shortages. This has always been a problem, but it’s being exacerbated as a result of problems with teacher recruitment.”

Ms Smith added: “John Swinney knows only too well a few schools in his own Perthshire constituency have had real problems with recruiting teachers, including in key subjects like maths.”

An Edinburgh City Council spokesman said that some pupils travelled to nearby schools for particular Higher subjects.

He said: “This benefits senior pupils by expanding the range of subjects they can study, as previously many were unable to take some courses due to a very small level of demand at their school.”

A Highland Council spokeswoman said some schools had a small number of pupils but they could study for exam coursework in some subjects via distance learning.

A spokeswoman for the Educational Institute of Scotland, Scotland’s largest teaching union, said some gaps in provision should be investigated.

She said: “Although slight differences should be expected, the size of some of these differences in certain local authorities may require further investigation.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Curriculum for excellence gives flexibility to offer different approaches to subject choices to meet the needs of pupils, and many schools have arrangements with other schools and colleges allowing young people to study courses that cannot be provided locally.

“Our deal with local authorities to maintain the pupil-teacher ratio has seen an increase in teacher recruitment by councils resulting in 253 more teachers last year.”