Review of the senior phase of Scottish education is needed, says Committee


A review of the senior phase of curriculum for excellence is needed to ensure that pupil aspirations are being met and that breadth of opportunity remain a cornerstone of Scottish education.

This is just one of the recommendations of a report issued today by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee following an inquiry on the number of subjects available to pupils in secondary school and in particular concerns regarding reduction in subject choice at S4

The Committee heard that following the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, which changed the way education is delivered in Scotland’s schools, there has been confusion and inadequate support from Education Scotland and SQA.

Today’s report asks the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of the senior phase of Scottish education, which takes place from S4-S6, to find out how the concerns expressed to the Committee during the inquiry can be addressed.

The Committee is also calling for clarity about who is responsible for the curricular structure in Scotland and for the Scottish Government to commission research to better understand the impact of different curricular models in different settings – such as rural areas and areas of deprivation.

Speaking as the report published, Committee Convener, Clare Adamson MSP said:

“The breadth of learning available to our pupils is rightly one of the cornerstones of Scottish education. But our Committee found the lack of clear leadership from Education Scotland and SQA around the curriculum structure has resulted in some narrowing of subject choice.

“This was compounded by a lack of awareness from these bodies, who are charged with supporting Scottish education, about the extent of the problem and their role in leading change. These organisations need to take responsibility so that our education system does not let down Scotland’s young people.”

The Committee heard about the range of positive and innovative work being done to deliver a broad range of subjects in Scotland’s schools. However, it noted that one impact of the changes was the increase in multi-level teaching – where different levels of qualification are taught in the same class. The report makes it clear that this should never be used as a result of resource issues or be to the detriment of pupils’ educational experience.

During the Committee’s consideration, it also heard evidence that the changes to the structure have had an impact on the number of pupils taking languages and STEM subjects leading to concerns about the future of these subjects in Scotland’s schools.

A copy of the Committee’s report is enclosed and can be found on its webpages.


The Committee’s inquiry looked at whether or not the number of subject choices available to pupils had narrowed.

The structure of secondary school was changed by the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence. Where this had previously tended to be structured in three two-year groups (S1-2, S3-4, S5-6), the structure now is two three-year groups. These are described as broad general education undertaken in S1 – S3 and Senior Phase from S4-S6. The Committee’s inquiry focused on the subject choices available during the Senior Phase.

The Committee undertook a survey of pupils, parents and carers and teachers, with over 1,700 responses received.  The Committee also held focus groups and received submissions from a range of organisations. Full details of the Committee’s work can be found on its webpages.


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