Flexibility vital from universities after changes

The senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence aims to produce a new kind of school-leaver; one who has experienced a different approach to learning. It also offers pupils more choice with a greater number of routes to the achievement of qualifications.

Around a third of Scotlands school-leavers go on to higher education. Picture: Getty
Around a third of Scotlands school-leavers go on to higher education. Picture: Getty

Such changes present challenges for admissions services and teaching in higher education, but they are changes for which the sector is very well prepared, having been closely engaged with Curriculum for Excellence for many years.

Around a third of Scotland’s school-leavers go on to higher education, so it is important that the transition between the senior phase and university is joined-up. Universities gave pupils, parents, teachers a clear signal of their commitment to be ready for this last year when Universities Scotland published its report Beyond the Senior Phase which was welcomed by school leaders and parents’ groups.

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Personalised curriculum

In the report, every higher education institution in Scotland committed to giving fair and equal consideration to candidates who possess the necessary knowledge and qualifications, irrespective of the route they have taken through the senior phase of schooling. The curriculum is personalised more than before and universities can no longer assume that there is one “normal” way for pupils to acquire their qualifications.

Since then, every institution has reviewed its admissions policies and practices in readiness for the senior phase. In doing so, they have looked to marry the commitment for fair and equal consideration of the different routes used to achieve qualifications in the senior phase with the need for minimum entry requirements which provide an assurance that every entrant has the academic potential to handle the rigorous demands of degree-level study.

Every higher education institution will publish a statement on Curriculum for Excellence and revise its entry requirements where necessary. Seventeen higher education institutions have completed this process to date, and their statements can be found on the institutions’ websites.

As at present, it will remain the case that each university is able to set different entry requirements. Such requirements differ not only between institutions but also between courses. With 19 higher education institutions and thousands of undergraduate degree courses in Scotland, it would be impossible to present here a guide to admissions that would be relevant to every possible applicant. It will remain important that pupils, parents and teachers consult the website, prospectus and admissions staff of every university and course they are interested in, so they have information specific to their interests and can make the best decision for them.

Shared principles

That said, all institutions are working to a few shared principles in relation to the senior phase which include:

• Universities will continue to express minimum requirements, mainly with reference to Highers.

• Institutions are taking a flexible approach to the varied timescales over which pupils will now achieve their qualifications. The diversity of courses means there cannot be a universal rule about when qualifications are achieved, though a few of the most demanding courses will have admissions requirements which expect pupils to have taken several Highers at one sitting.

• Advanced Highers and Baccalaureates are also recognised by universities for their potential to support progression in learning and provide a valuable grounding for study at undergraduate degree level.

In general, institutions will not specify an S6 curriculum for applicants that is linked solely to Advanced Highers, but will instead expect to see evidence of full and continued commitment throughout S6, even if minimum entry requirements are met by the end of S5, and not necessarily in purely academic terms. Some institutions may also have particular academic requirements in relation to Advanced Highers for entry to some programmes.

From a university perspective, there is much about the new school curriculum that is exciting, including the fact that it should equip pupils with the knowledge, abilities and attitude to create an excellent basis for higher education. The additional flexibility that Curriculum for Excellence looks to give pupils in the way qualifications can be achieved is to be welcomed. Universities have looked to respect that in their new admissions policies.

In a time of much change, one factor which remains constant is that getting into university will remain a highly competitive process. Prospective students will give themselves the best possible chance if they have a clear idea of their favoured courses and institutions and if they seek the information relevant to them as early as possible as they approach the senior phase.

• Alastair Sim is the director of Universities Scotland. www.universities-scotland.ac.uk