Reform Scotland has published a breakdown of how many National 4 and National 5 exams pupils attending state schools in each council area are allowed to take.
In 2016, all schools in East Dunbartonshire offered eight exams – this has now dropped to seven, or just six at Lenzie Academy. In East Renfrewshire, which is similar in socio-economic terms, children can take eight exams. East Renfrewshire is also the highest performing authority in terms of Higher results.
Chris Deerin, director of Reform Scotland, said: “We are in real danger of opening up a new type of attainment gap in Scotland – one where children who are allowed to sit eight or nine National 4s or 5s will have a distinct advantage over those restricted to five or six, regardless of the latter’s ability. The schools cutting the number of exams on offer are typically those serving our more deprived communities, further limiting the life opportunities of children who may already be disadvantaged.
“The potential of those children whose parents can afford to choose private education, or to move to a catchment area where the school allows more subjects to be chosen, is unaffected.
“This appears to be an unintended consequence of the Curriculum for Excellence and it is one the Scottish Government must look at urgently. We should be removing the hurdles that stand in the way of disadvantaged children, not adding new ones.”
Keir Bloomer, Reform Scotland board member, chair of the Commission on School Reform, former local authority director of education and one of the authors of Curriculum for Excellence, said: “One of the purposes of CfE was to broaden pupils’ education, but instead the way in which it is being implemented is narrowing it significantly.
“There is ample opportunity for pupils to combine practical and academic options when they are enabled to sit nine, eight, or even seven exams, but when we narrow it down to six or five there is very little room for manoeuvre.
“Someone attending a school which allows only a low number of exams to be sat and who leaves after fourth year will find themselves with fewer qualifications than other leavers; those going on to study Highers will have a smaller pool of subjects from which to choose.
“Parents, many of whom will have had the opportunity to sit eight Standard Grades, will not understand why their children are facing a narrowing of subjects.
“Reducing the number of subject options is not a government policy. It has come about by accident; the unintended consequence of ill-conceived advice. This is the hallmark of poor management.
“This is a lose, lose.”
East Dunbartonshire Council depute chief executive Ann Davie said: “Again last year, East Dunbartonshire had the highest rate of young people leaving school to go on to a positive destination.
“The most recent School Leaver Destination Return, published by Skills Development Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government shows that 98.3 per cent of our school leavers go onto a positive destination – compared to a national average of 93.6 per cent.
“The majority went on to higher education (64 per cent), with the remainder going into further education (13.5 per cent), employment (18.2 per cent), training (1.6 per cent) and voluntary work (one per cent).
“In addition, our schools have consistently high levels of attainment in exams and are showing positive signs of closing the attainment gap across the area.
“What this demonstrates is that pupils in East Dunbartonshire have access to a wide range of options that enable them to choose academic or vocational pathways into work or further education – and that the results are positive for those young people.
“Across East Dunbartonshire, schools have consulted with staff, pupils and parents to develop a curriculum framework that is in line with the council’s Secondary Curriculum Guidance. This framework offers Senior Phase students access to number of certificated subjects, opportunities for wider achievement and school/college options.
“We are proud of the record of achievements of our young people and are fortunate to have staff dedicated to ensuring that young people leave school equipped with the skills for life, learning and work.”