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Eight out of 10 teachers say subject choice has narrowed in S4

The finding was revealed in research for the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee.

82% of teachers surveyed said subject choices had declined for pupils in S4 (Gareth Fuller/PA)
82% of teachers surveyed said subject choices had declined for pupils in S4 (Gareth Fuller/PA)

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

A survey by the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee found 82% 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”.

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

In their responses, 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% of such pupils were unable to take all the classes that they wanted.

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Scottish Coneravtive education spokeswoman Liz Smith. (Scottish Parliament/PA)

Commenting on the latest survey, Scottish Conservative 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.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Teacher numbers are at their highest since 2010, and we have increased targets for recruitment into teacher education and made it more practical for people to access courses.

“We have also taken decisive action through our Teaching Makes People campaign, with bursaries of £20,000 available for career changers to train in priority subjects. The student teacher intake has now increased for three years in a row.”

He continued: “Under Curriculum for Excellence, schools now have the freedom to design a three-year senior phase of a range of courses to meet pupils’ needs. Almost two-thirds now leave school in S6 and what matters is the qualifications pupils achieved, not what they study in a single year.

“Wherever possible, schools should ensure young people can choose their preferred subjects in the senior phase, working with partners to make their offer as broad as possible. Young people also now have opportunities to study towards a much broader range of qualifications, not just at school, but at college and through apprenticeships.”

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