Schools warn of ‘postcode lottery’ for fourth-year subject choice

Most schools in Scotland offer six subjects to pupils entering their fourth year. Picture: Contributed
Most schools in Scotland offer six subjects to pupils entering their fourth year. Picture: Contributed
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Most schools in Scotland are only offering six subjects to fourth-year pupils as teacher shortages and a lack of leadership take their toll, a formal survey undertaken by MSPs has revealed.

There are even warnings of a “postcode lottery” from schools themselves, along with fears the “progression” of youngsters may be thwarted in many subject areas, with languages among those which are likely to suffer.

But supporters say it increases pupil choice if they are allowed to study six subjects in fourth year, then six again in fifth and sixth year, which most youngsters now stay on to complete.

The survey carried out on behalf of Holyrood’s education committee saw 87 of Scotland’s 359 secondary schools respond. It found that 50 schools (57 per cent) offered a maximum of six subjects in fourth year.

One school offered a maximum of five subjects.

Fewer than a third (26) allowed youngsters to sit a maximum of six subjects. Just ten (11 per cent) had eight subjects as the norm in fourth year.

The committee will this week start an inquiry into subject choice in the later stages of secondary school amid growing concerns in recent years the narrowing range is limiting youngsters’ education.

The absence of leadership from the top has come under fire from some of the schools, which commented in their responses to the committee, as well as the difficulty in recruiting new teachers.

One school commented: “Over the last few years there has been a lack of clarity in advice for the senior phase, particularly over how more than six subjects can be taken in S4 and how that relates to the purpose and rationale for S3.”

Another called for a review of the system at national level.

“There is significant variation from authority to authority and this has the potential to become something of a postcode lottery for young people,” it adds.

The issue will come under the spotlight at Holyrood today when bosses from national teaching quango Education Scotland, including strategic director Alan Armstrong, give evidence before MSPs on the education committee, along with chief inspector 
of education Gayle Gorman.