Think back to the age of 14 or 15 when you were about to start fourth-year in secondary school. Did you know then what you would end up doing in life? Did you make decisive decisions about the career you would ultimately pursue?
Now imagine, at that age, you are only able to take six subjects, two of which have to be English and maths, in the coming year. Do you think you would make the right choices? Many 14 and 15-year-olds don’t have to imagine this situation because, according to a survey carried out for the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, that is what they are being offered by 57 per cent of schools in Scotland. Just 11 per cent offered eight subjects.
The survey also found that 72 per cent of schools believed difficulties in recruiting staff were limiting the range of subjects on offer. According to one in the North East, the subjects taught are “increasingly” driven by staff availability amid “very challenging recruitment difficulties”, rather than the “rationale” behind its curriculum.
Before Brexit came to dominate virtually all public debate, education was seen as one of the most important political issues with some politicians saying the word three times to emphasise their commitment to improving it.
While the ongoing chaos at Westminster is clearly vital to the future of this country, the quality of education is still of fundamental importance on both a personal and national scale.
Defenders of the “six-subject model” for S4 point out that many children now stay on in school for S5 and S6 and are able to take different National 5 subjects alongside Highers. As MSPs on the education committee begin hearing evidence about the state of Scottish education, they need to closely examine the merits of this argument. There has to be scope for children to find the subjects they enjoy and for which they show the greatest aptitude – and also to make mistakes in their choices.
But perhaps of more concern is that teacher shortages could be preventing pupils from choosing courses they actually want to study. It is far easier to learn something if you are actually interested in the subject. Adults will make decisions about the way forward for education, but when they do so, they should try to remember what it was like when they were teenagers preparing to make their way in the world.