Staff shortages in schools are hitting subject choice, teachers have warned

Most teachers say subject choices for pupils in S4 have been narrowed – with staffing levels given as the most frequent reason.

Teachers say a lack of staff is leaving pupils disadvantaged.

A survey by the Scottish Parliament’s education committee found 82 per cent of staff said subject choices for that year had reduced.

Committee papers revealed that out of 500 responses to that survey “aspects of staffing were mentioned nearly 350 times by respondents” – even though this was “not a theme suggested through the question wording”.

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The next most common reason cited by teachers was timetabling, which was mentioned 162 times.

In their responses to the survey, staff complained that some subject choices were “affected by the availablility of specialist teachers”, while others said that “there are not enough teachers at the school to deliver the courses required”.

One teacher stated: “The availability of staff is the driver for deciding the entire curriculum. Our curriculum breadth and depth has been eroded recently due to the need to cut back on staff.”

MSPs on the education committee have been examining the issue amid concerns that youngsters are not able to study as many different subjects in the senior phase of secondary school. Youngsters often used to study up to eight subjects in S3 and S4 under the old Standard Grade system, but following the introduction of National 4 and 5 exams, many schools now only offer students the chance to study six subjects.

Research by the committee has already shown that 56 per cent of such pupils were unable to take all the classes that they wanted.

Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “The SNP government keeps avoiding the reasons why subject choice is increasingly restricted for Scottish pupils. But now teachers have exposed the truth. Even though it wasn’t an option in the survey, two-thirds of them have pointed the finger at teacher numbers and problems with recruitment.

“No doubt, had the option been included in the survey that figure would have been even higher.”

She added: “The SNP has been in charge of education for 12 years and has to take full responsibility for this.”

Gayle Gorman, chief inspector of education and chief executive of Education Scotland, admitted in evidence to the committee last month that teacher shortages are limiting the number of subjects pupils can choose to study in schools.

Nearly three-quarters of schools warned that difficulty recruiting teachers is constraining subject choice, a separate survey carried out by the committee showed, while a Freedom of Information request by think tank Reform Scotland showed last month revealed the constraints on subject choice has “narrowed considerably” in recent years.