Schools in deprived areas ‘restricting subject choice for pupils’

The head of a parents’ organisation said she suspects schools in more deprived areas are placing greater restrictions on subject choice for pupils.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee inquiry into subject choice in schools, Connect executive director Eileen Prior said the information gathered did not enable a conclusion one way or the other.

But she said she “intuitively” suspects schools in more deprived areas are giving pupils a more restricted subject choice than more affluent areas.

She said: “That’s for all sorts of reasons … difficulty recruiting staff to more rural or more deprived areas, there are a whole series of possible causes in there and it is multi-layered.”

Ms Prior said she would expect Education Scotland to “have a firm handle on this”.

The focus on the numbers of subjects offered “takes our eyes off the ball”, she claimed, and instead should be on the range of opportunities for young people.

Many parents do not understand changes brought in through Curriculum for Excellence reform of the school system, Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland told the committee.

Not sharing information on the changes with parents “has been the most major failing across the whole Curriculum for Excellence”, she added.

She said information is not being shared “adequately or successfully enough”.

“The experience for parents is they don’t know what’s happening, so they don’t understand how it works,” she said.

“They don’t know if it’s good and they don’t know if it’s bad. They just don’t know about it really at all.”

Questioned if a school offering six subjects in fourth year would essentially determine which Highers pupils do, she said: “I think in theory it doesn’t because the theory is you should be able to pick up other subjects and you should be able to crash highers – you’ll have enough breadth of a subject – but in practice it probably does.”

Ms Murphy said there was much more flexibility in some schools, with some not using the column system for picking subjects and offering free choice.

Magaidh Wentworth, of Gaelic-medium education parents’ organisation Comann nam Parant, told MSPs: “There are too many schools that are using columns and where children are only having six subjects it is too restrictive to enable them to have a wide enough choice of subjects at that early level.

“Pupils will not be clear as to what they are going to do at Higher level in their education or where their destinations are.

“They need more flexibility for more pupils throughout Scotland – not just the few schools that are managing to do it.”

The evidence comes a day after the committee published a survey indicating 56% of pupils in the senior phase of secondary school were not able to take all the classes they wanted, with some claiming they are “forced” to take classes they “hate”.

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