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Teacher recruitment troubles limiting subject choice, MSPs told

Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee is holding an inquiry into curriculum reform.

More than seven in 10 schools responding to a survey said difficulty recruiting teachers is hitting subject choice (Ben Birchall/PA)
More than seven in 10 schools responding to a survey said difficulty recruiting teachers is hitting subject choice (Ben Birchall/PA)

Nearly three-quarters of Scottish schools responding to a parliamentary survey have said difficulty recruiting teachers is constraining subject choice.

The survey was carried out for an inquiry by Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee into the extent and basis for any narrowing of subject choice following curriculum reforms.

The Curriculum for Excellence redesign removed Standard Grades in favour of new national qualifications and introduced a three-year senior phase.

Increasingly choices in the senior phase are driven by what we can staff due to very challenging recruitment difficulties Survey respondent

A total of 86 of Scotland’s 350 local authority mainstream schools responded to the survey, which was emailed out earlier this year, as well as the grant-maintained Jordanhill School.

Of these, 31% said difficulties recruiting teachers with the required subject specialisms constrained their subject offering in fourth year “a great deal”.

A further 41% said it was constrained “to some extent”, while 17% found “a little” constraint and 10% said it did not constrain them at all.

Nine respondents made comments about staffing constraints, with one saying: “Increasingly choices in the senior phase are driven by what we can staff due to very challenging recruitment difficulties in the north-east rather than the school’s rationale for our senior phase curriculum.”

Capacity in the school timetable was the next biggest concern regarding limiting of subject choice in S4, with 22% of schools saying this constrained them a great deal.

Around one in four (39%) said this constrained them to some extent, 32% said a little and 6% not at all.

More than half (57%) of schools responding offer a maximum of six subjects in fourth year but 16 of these schools are aiming to increase this.

Nearly a third (30%) offered seven subjects in S4 and 11% offered eight subjects.

A total of 14 schools commented on a narrowing choice of subjects, with one school saying this “restricts pupil choice and progression routes, and undermines the viability of subjects”.

Another said it was told to move to six subjects by its local authority “very much against the will of the school community – it has reduced choice and caused problems for some pupils”.

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Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith raised concerns (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

Liz Smith, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman said: “Many experts have told us that subject choice in Scottish schools has narrowed significantly under the SNP.

“Now schools themselves have told the Scottish Parliament that a lack of teachers is an additional constraint.”

She said the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence is “undermining Scottish education”, and added: “The evidence which has been submitted to the Education and Skills Committee lays bare the extent of the subject choice problem under the SNP – something which is bound to have a detrimental impact on the ability of young people to get the qualifications they both want and need.”

Her Liberal Democrat counterpart Tavish Scott said teacher numbers have fallen by more than 3,000 since the SNP took power.

He said: “Young people should be able to gain the combination of qualifications that is right for them.

“Instead, schools are telling us that pupils’ choices, and therefore their ambitions, are being limited by the lack of teachers.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Wherever possible, schools should ensure that young people can choose their preferred subjects.

“However, where a subject cannot be offered by the school, national guidelines encourage flexibility, enabling schools to consider alternative approaches that best meet learners’ needs and aspirations.”

She said teacher numbers in Scotland are at their highest since 2010 but the Government recognises the teacher recruitment challenges and has increased the target for teacher training and made this more accessible.

PA

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