New figures add fuel to subject choice debate

Statistics show the number of schools where pupils take an average of seven subjects has plummeted since 2013

New figures add fuel to subject choice debate

Figures revealed today show that while the vast majority of S4 pupils in Scotland used to study for seven or more qualifications, now only around half of schools enter pupils for that number of subjects.  

In 2012-13 – the year before the new National qualifications were introduced for the first time – there were 308 secondary schools where pupils took an average of seven or more qualifications at S4. By 2018, that figure had fallen to just 182 schools.

By contrast, the number of schools where pupils were entered for an average of six subjects or less has risen sharply. Back in 2013, there were just 46 schools where pupils took six subjects or less in S4, but now that figure is 165.


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In 2013, there were a total of 364 secondaries in Scotland, dropping to 357 by last year.

The figures were revealed today at First Minister’s Questions by the Scottish Conservatives and will fuel further the debate about whether the Scottish curriculum is narrowing.

Previous research had already shown that around half of schools now offered just six subjects at S4. However these figures are based on the average number of qualifications pupils in S4 were actually entered for, and show how this has changed over time.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson said the fall had come about not because schools had more control over the curriculum, but because they did not have enough teachers and support.

She called on the Scottish government to “spend a bit less time attacking the messengers and a bit more time listening to the evidence”.

She pointed out that while the Scottish government argued it was the qualifications gained over the entirety of the S4 to S6 senior phase that mattered – as opposed to those gained in a single year – that did not help the cohort of pupils who still left school at the end of S4.

Ms Davidson has in recent times made a case for keeping students in formal learning until the age of 18.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon, however, argued that the best evidence of how the system was performing was how well pupils were achieving. She said that attainment at Higher and National 5-level was rising and that whilst 22 per cent of pupils left school with five Highers in 2009, that figure was now over 30 per cent

“These are the facts,” said Ms Sturgeon. “Ruth Davidson does not like them because they don’t suit her.”

Ms Sturgeon added the number of teachers in Scottish schools was higher than at any time since 2010.

She continued: “Ruth Davidson has got a bit of a cheek talking about numbers of teachers in our schools when she is the leader of the austerity party in Scotland and the leader of the party that would give tax cuts to the richest, and therefore take money out of our education system.”

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