Teacher shortage ‘driving’ school subject choice

Survey finds 72% of Scottish state secondaries say difficulty recruiting teachers is constraining the subjects pupils can study

Emma Seith

Teacher shortages in subjects like home economics are ‘driving’ school subject choice

The teacher shortage – which is particularly acute for subjects like home economics and technical education – is narrowing subject choice for pupils, according to almost three-quarters of secondaries that took part in a recent survey conducted by a Scottish Parliament committee.

Tes Scotland reported earlier this year that subjects like home economics and technical education were disappearing off school timetables due to shortages

Background: Subject choice in schools to be reviewed by MSPs

Short read: 'Narrowing' of curriculum limiting pupil choice, politicians told

Research: ‘Inequity for students’ as secondary subject options narrow

Now a survey by the Scottish Parliament’s education and skills committee that received responses from around a quarter of state secondaries – 86 out of 359 schools – has revealed that 72 per cent report that recruitment difficulties are limiting the number of subjects they can offer in the fourth year of secondary.

Almost a third (31 per cent) of schools said this was happening “a great deal” and 41 per cent said it was happening “to some extent”.

One respondent commented: “Increasingly choices in the senior phase are driven by what we can staff due to very challenging recruitment difficulties in the northeast rather than the school’s rationale for our senior phase curriculum.”

The Scottish Conservative’s education spokeswoman Liz Smith, who sits on the education committee, said a “lack of teachers” was putting “an additional constraint” on the subjects schools could offer.

Already teachers report that subjects outside the core of English, maths and the sciences are being squeezed out because of the move from studying eight subjects in S4 to six under the new Nationals qualification regime.

Ms Smith said: “The evidence which has been submitted to the education and skills committee lays bare the extent of the subject choice problem under the SNP – something which is bound to have a detrimental impact on the ability of young people to get the qualifications they both want and need. 

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue given the significant implications for the Scottish economy.”

Some respondents also hit out at national policy, according to the survey analysis conducted by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).

One respondent wrote: “The diversity in opportunity across the country regarding how many courses a child can pursue in S4 is something which I believe must be reviewed at a national level. There is significant variation from authority to authority and this has the potential to become something of a postcode lottery for young people.”

Another added: “Over the last few years there has been a lack of clarity in advice for the senior phase – particularly over how more than six subjects can be taken in S4 and how that relates to the purpose and rationale for S3.” 

However, the survey – conducted as part of the committee’s inquiry into subject choice – also suggests that things may be starting to change, with more schools looking to increase the number of subjects they offer in S4.

The committee found that 13 per cent of schools offered a maximum of seven subjects in S4 and over half of schools responding (57 per cent) offered six. However, “nearly a third of these (16 schools) are looking at increasing the number of subjects offered”, said the survey analysis.

If these schools’ plans go ahead it would result in 50 per cent of the surveyed secondaries offering six subjects and 48 per cent offering seven.

The survey showed that 11 per cent of schools offered eight subjects in S4 and just one school offered five.

The Scottish government has been contacted for comment.

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for TES Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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