Strict rules around the qualifications that secondary subject teachers in Scotland must hold are preventing schools from breaking down the barriers between disciplines, resulting in the fragmentation of the curriculum, say experts.
The fact that only teachers with a degree in a subject are allowed to deliver it in Scottish secondary schools is often highlighted as a strength of the system. However, the strict rules that the teaching watchdog, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, imposes have come under attack from a group that wants more autonomy for schools and more power for headteachers.
The Commission on School Reform was set up by the thinktanks Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy and includes former council chief executive and architect of the Scottish curriculum, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), Keir Bloomer; head of University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education, Rowena Arshad; and retired headteacher Frank Lennon.
It says headteachers are being “constrained” in their ability to determine the curriculum in their schools, particularly in the early years of secondary because of “stringent requirements set by the GTCS” which mean teachers can deliver their subject but not related subjects.
The rules also mean, they say, that schools have been largely unable to deliver on “an important element” of CfE – interdisciplinary learning.
CfE envisages that the curriculum should include space for learning beyond subject boundaries, so that pupils can make connections between different areas of learning.
However, the commission says this element has by and large not been realised.
The commission says: “The stringent requirements set by the GTCS … together with the list of subjects in which it recognises secondary teaching qualifications continues to influence the ability and willingness of schools (and individual teachers) to develop the S1-3 curriculum through the introduction of interdisciplinary learning.
"It perpetuates the fragmentation of the curriculum by sustaining the practice of timetabling three discreet social subjects and three sciences in the early secondary years. It is important to emphasise that the commission does not dissent from the view that secondary teachers should be appropriately qualified.
"However, it believes that recognising the ability of teachers to teach in cognate areas to their main area(s) of specialism is essential to a realisation of the curricular vision of Curriculum for Excellence."
The commission made its comments in its response to the Scottish government's consultation, which closes today, on the legislation it plans to introduce to empower schools. It said the Scottish government was right to highlight “local restrictions on the organisation of subjects” which may be imposed by local authorities” but that it failed to recognise “the greater restriction resulting from GTCS regulations”.
However, Seamus Searson, general secretary of the teaching union the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said he would “die in a ditch” before he allowed the rules around subject specialists in Scotland to be broken.
In England it was common for teachers to deliver subjects they were not qualified in and that was not a road Scotland wanted to go down, he warned.
Last year Tes reported that the number of unqualified teachers working in state-funded schools in England had risen by more than 60 per cent since 2012, according to an analysis by the Labour Party.
Mr Searson said: “I would argue it is one of the strengths of the Scottish system that you have teachers qualified in their subjects teaching in schools. There is logic to people with an expertise in an areas teaching youngsters.”
The GTCS was contacted for comment and said it would respond today.