‘Narrowing’ curriculum restricts subject choice for pupils at Scottish schools

Teachers, unions and academics have criticised the “narrowing” of subject choices in Scotland’s high schools in a series of damning submissions to MSPs.

The Scottish Government said studying for fewer subjects meant pupils had more time for learning
The Scottish Government said studying for fewer subjects meant pupils had more time for learning

Holyrood’s education committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss how the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which was rolled out across the country from 2010 onwards, has impacted on the course options available to pupils.

Critics have claimed the new National 4 and 5 exams, which replaced Standard Grades, have limited the choices open to pupils when selecting Higher courses to study in their senior school years.

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Jim Sutherland, who retired as head teacher of Lochaber High School in 2018, said the way CfE was structured for senior pupils meant it had not improved the overall learning experience from the system used before.

“I believe this is because the reduction of the number of subjects in S4 has significantly narrowed choice for young people moving on to S5 and S6,” he said in a submission to the committee.

He added: “While fewer subjects should lead to a greater depth of learning, many of the possible benefits were lost initially with over-complex and burdensome assessment procedures.”

In its submission, the NASUWT union claimed the current model was restricting pupil choice and

progression beyond core subjects, as well as undermining the viability of other subjects.

“There is no doubt that the senior phase of CfE has the potential to allow for better learning and overall achievement than previously - unfortunately, this potential has not been realised,” the union added.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Built on a flexible framework, CfE empowers teachers to deliver engaging and personalised learning experiences, which is further supported by our work to empower schools and strengthen professional autonomy.

“Our focus is on a young person’s achievement at the end of their senior phase, not just within a single year, and the long-term trend shows a greater proportion of young people staying on at school beyond S4, while the number of pupils in those year groups has fallen.

“Studying for fewer qualifications means more time for learning and teaching in the subjects that are being studied. It also means more time for studying for awards other than ‘traditional’ national qualifications.”