A large number of parents across Scotland, while welcoming the benefits the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence will bring, are very concerned that many S4 pupils will be disadvantaged through being offered fewer examinable National 5 level subjects than were available for Standard Grade study. Different Local Authority policies are causing schools to offer different numbers of subjects. Some are restricting schools to 6, some allowing 7 while others are allowing up to 8 for those pupils for whom this is considered appropriate (note – no child is required to study 8 subjects).
We therefore have a postcode lottery with many schools being denied 'latitude' (Dr Alasdair Allan*) and the 'flexibility' or 'autonomy' (Lorraine Sanda**) the Government claims they possess to determine for themselves, following consultation with their local communities, the best timetable structure for their pupils.
The Scottish Government insists schools’ rights are protected by National implementation guidelines. In practice, many Local Authorities have ignored these to impose a one-size-fits-all policy across all Secondary schools in their jurisdiction. This is a flawed approach since every school is unique with its own opportunities and challenges.
Authorities have generally offered no objective educational rationale to show how one-size-fits-all policies would improve academic achievement. It is arbitrary, discriminatory and unnecessary. By taking no account of local and individual needs, thus preventing schools from Getting It Right For Every Child, it risks disadvantaging children across the board, no matter whether they choose an academic or vocational path.
Speaking at a parents meeting on June 17th Dr Alasdair Allan acknowledged that while it may not be appropriate for all, the Scottish Government saw no reason to prevent schools which believed it was appropriate in their circumstances to offer pupils up to 8 subjects in S4 from doing so. He said it was 'feasible' for all schools.
Some Authorities have put forward an argument that National 4/5 courses are in some way ‘worth more than’ the Standard Grade General and Credit courses they are replacing but the SQA confirms in its Ready Reckoner that:
National 4 = Standard Grade General, National 5 = Standard Grade Credit
It has also been claimed that the new courses are more demanding to teach, requiring a notional 160 hours per subject, meaning only 6 subjects can be accommodated in S4. Dr Allan, however, was very clear that the number of hours was not fixed and that it was quite possible that some schools and pupils could deliver a full National 5 curriculum in a shorter time.
These changes are happening now and pupils at many schools are already finding their opportunities restricted. Immediate action is required if all of Scotland's children are to regain the right to achieve to the best of their ability. Your signature will help us to win fairness for all.
* Minster for Learning, Science and Scotland's Languages
** National Parental Involvement Co-ordinator for Education Scotland
Different Authorities are enforcing different policies, developed centrally rather than as the result of individual schools working with parents and pupils (which is what National guidelines expect), which is resulting in different numbers of subjects being offered in different areas.
This is creating an educational postcode lottery whereby some pupils face having their opportunities restricted purely because of where they live, irrespective of their individual abilities.
Dr Alasdair Allan, speaking at a meeting with parents on June 17th, confirmed that it was feasible for any school to offer up to 8 subjects in S4 where appropriate to its pupils’ needs and abilities.
However this is not happening in practice and we therefore call upon the Scottish Government through whatever means are available to ensure that all Local Authorities honour National implementation guidelines and allow every school, working with its parents and pupils, to implement the timetable structure most appropriate to its own needs.
As Education Secretary we ask you to demonstrate your commitment to the future of Scotland's youth – to Getting It Right For Every Child – by empowering teachers and parents, operating within the National Curriculum for Excellence framework, to make their own decisions in the best interests of their own pupils and children.
Time is of the essence since schools are already in the process of implementing one-size-fits-all timetable models to meet unilateral Authority demands. If this process is not halted, whole year-groups of Scottish children will have been failed by the very educational system which was intended to raise their opportunity and their attainment.