Secondary Scottish education must be reviewed, MSPs say

MSPs raise concerns about Curriculum for Excellence amid fears over a narrowing of subject choice for students

MSPs have called for a review of the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence

A review of the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence is needed to ensure that pupils' aspirations are being met and that they have a wide enough range of opportunities in schools, MSPs have found.

This is one of the recommendations of a report published today by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, following an inquiry into the number of subjects available to pupils and, in particular, concerns over subject choice at S4

The recommendation has been accepted by the Scottish government which said an independent review would look at how Curriculum for Excellence was being implemented for young people in S4-S6 to identify any improvements that could be made.

The committee heard that, following the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), there had been confusion and inadequate support from Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).


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The committee is also calling for clarity about who is responsible for the curricular structure in Scotland and for the government to commission research to better understand the impact of different curricular models in different settings, such as rural areas and areas of social deprivation.

Is Curriculum for Excellence working?

Committee convener Clare Adamson 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 a 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 an increase in "multi-level teaching", where different levels of qualification are taught in the same class.

The report states that this should never be done as a result of resource issues or be to the detriment of pupils’ education.

The committee also heard evidence that the changes to curriculum structure have had a negative impact on the number of pupils taking languages and Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, leading to concerns about the future of these subjects in Scotland’s schools.

Announcing the review, the education secretary John Swinney said that Curriculum for Excellence allowed for local flexibility but said an independent review would be carried out "to help us better understand how the curriculum is being implemented in schools and identify any areas for improvement".

Mr Swinney had already agreed earlier this year to carry out an evaluation of CfE implementation, with the announcement of the independent review the next step in that process. 

He said: "The scope will be agreed with our local authority partners, Education Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the national Curriculum and Assessment Board, which includes representatives from all parts of the education system."

The committee carried out a survey of pupils, parents and carers and teachers, with over 1,700 responses received. It also hosted focus groups and received submissions from a range of organisations.

Full details of the committee’s work can be found on its web pages.

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