I have come to the conclusion that it is not good for my mental health to watch First Minister’s Questions from the Scottish Parliament when the topic being discussed is Education.
However, despite these genuine fears, I once again steeled myself and listened to FMQs last Thursday (7th November). The outcome was as feared – I sat open-mouthed as emotions ranged between incredulity, frustration and an all-encompassing feeling that politicians just ‘spin’ and deliberately avoid the difficult questions.
The First Minister was asked about the narrowing of subject choice in secondary schools, particularly those in the qualification phase. The response was, ‘No, there is a wide variety of choice’ continuing with the request that Scottish Education should be judged on outcomes. The First Minister then delivered a series of positive statistics, namely:
In 2013, 58% of pupils obtained 1 or more Higher passes which has now improved to 62%
In 2013, 46% attained 2 or more Higher passes which has now improved to 52%
In 2013, 8.3% attained 7 or more Higher passes which has now improved to 9.6%
And, additionally, that at Level 6 (Higher) the attainment gap was at a record low.
So, that’s good, isn’t it? Scottish education clearly on the up and the garden somewhat rosier.
Unfortunately, the First Minister, as all politicians now do, failed to answer the actual question which was posed.
As a result, I thought it might be helpful to those with an interest in the question of subject choice and availability of subjects to answer the question that she didn’t.
To be clear, the answers I provide are freely available by accessing the Education and Skills Committee Review of Subject Choices. Here are some of the key findings:
PUPILS’ SURVEY – 56% of respondents stated that they had not been able to take all the subjects they wanted to at school.
PARENTS’ SURVEY – 76% of respondents stated that their child was not able to take all the subjects they wanted at school.
TEACHERS’ SURVEY – 82% said subjects and subject choice had narrowed at S4, 65% that they had narrowed at S5 and 61% that they had narrowed at S6.
SURVEY OF SECONDARY SCHOOLS – 52% of schools offer 6 subjects at National 5, 37% offer 7 and 10% offer 8.
Under the Standard Grade system, the overwhelming majority of schools offered 8 subjects in S3 and S4.
So, in answer to the question:
Yes, subject provision has declined in Secondary Schools and subject choice has narrowed.
Simple question, straightforward answer.