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News: Research shows failures of Curriculum for Excellence, especially for pupils in high deprivation areas

Posted 21 February, 2023 by Nina Joynson

New research from the University of Stirling has found that current outcomes for pupils are contrary to the aims of Curriculum for Excellence

Researchers state that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has led to a "culture of perfomativity", due to continuous pressure on teachers to raise attainment levels. 

The study found that pupils now face a narrowed choice of subjects at assessment level, while performance and outcomes for higher education also highlight weaknesses in the curriculum.

Dr Marina Shapira, Associate Professor in Sociology and the project’s Principal Investigator, said: 

“The research reveals the pressure on teachers to raise attainment, which can lead to decision-making that is contrary to the purposes and principles of CfE.

This narrow focus on what is assessed for National Qualifications can be argued to be counter-educational, limiting young people’s opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills and attributes that are essential for successful transitions beyond school and for adult life.”

Studying the curriculum 

The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, took place over three years and has been labelled as the most comprehensive study on Scottish secondary school curricular provision to date.

Researchers analysed data from the Scottish Government, and generated new data from surveys, interviews and focus groups involving school leaders, local authorities, teachers, young people and parents.


One of the original purposes of CfE was to broaden the secondary school curriculum.

This new evidence reveals that S4 students are studying fewer subjects now than before it was introduced, and enrolment in non-compulsory subjects such as Modern Languages and Expressive Arts continues to decline. 

Studying fewer National 5 subjects was associated with a lower pass rate on those qualifications, contrary to expectations that concentrating on fewer subjects would lead to higher achievement.

While curriculum narrowing was evidenced across all socio-demographic factors, students studying in areas of high deprivation were most adversely affected. 

The results suggest that pupils at schools with a more limited curriculum may have poorer choices of positive destinations, such as Higher Education after school.

Students in high deprivation areas were also more likely to postpone National 5 qualifications until S5, and Highers until S6 (rather than S4 and S5, respectively).

Click here to read the full report from the University of Stirling

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Young person working on laptop

News: Computing Science gets a boost in Scottish schools

Posted 9 February 2022, by Nina Joynson

Computing Science in schools will benefit from government funding and a new industry mentoring scheme, following reports that the subject needs to be revived for success.

The Scottish Government has announced a £1.3 million investment in digital technology resources in response to an independent review that highlighted weaknesses in how schools handle computing science.

Every state sector school will be offered support to revive the subject, while secondary schools are invited to bid for grants up to £3,000 to invest in additional equipment, software and teaching resources.

Announced earlier this week, opposition MSPs have reacted critically to the funding, arguing that the amount falls short.

Michael Marra MSP, Education Spokesperson for Scottish Labour said:

“This does not amount to even a sticking plaster for the massive cut in education resources that will only see the crisis in computing science and digital skills under this government increase.”

Computing science on the curriculum

The funding comes after teaching groups and individuals emphasised the need for better computing science education, with shortcomings seen in the curriculum currently and reflected in the workforce.

In 2020, the Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review found that 13,000 digital tech jobs are created in Scotland every year, bringing £1 billion to the economy. They assessed approximately 5,000 of these jobs are filled by Scots, appointed after university or using apprenticeship schemes.

The review concluded that change needed to start in school to enthuse young people about these subjects and the career opportunities in the computing and tech sector. They advise recognising Computing Science as a core subject taught from S1.

However, a shortage of teaching staff means many schools no longer offer the subject, with figures suggesting a Scottish ‘computing science crisis’:

  • The number of teachers specialising in computing science dropped by 22% between 2008 and 2020
  • The number of pupils studying the subject dropped by 65% between 2001 and 2020
  • Only 17% of Highers in the subject were awarded to girls in 2021, highlighting a stark gender disparity gap.

Supporting the future workforce

Encouragingly, change is already visible with a 7% increase in the overall number completing a Computing Science Higher in 2021.

The continued interest and engagement with computing science is being supported through the rollout of a new scheme, alongside the additional funding.

Working in partnership with ScotlandIS, DYW Glasgow and Skills Development Scotland, the Digital Critical Friends programme pairs computing science teachers with industry experts. It aims to address the digital skills gap by sharing industry practices and feeding relevant knowledge into the curriculum.

The programme currently only operates in Glasgow, with recruitment of industry mentors happening in four newly announced areas: Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Scottish Borders.

Phil Ford, Head of Digital Technologies at Skills Development Scotland, said:

“Our goal is to ensure the curriculum is industry relevant, that teachers are upskilled and sector savvy, and young people have an increased awareness of digital career opportunities.”

To learn more about the scheme, click here to visit the ScotlandIS website.

Education reform: "We need to learn from research and practice"

30 November 2021

Children in Scotland has responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on Education Reform, calling for a child-rights approach and emphasising the benefits of a child-centred education framework.

We support the observations of the OECD that significant changes and learning have taken place around education policy and research since the Curriculum for Excellence was first formulated, more than two decades ago.

In our submission, we share our belief that this learning needs to be applied to the reform of Scotland’s curriculum structure in order to ensure it remains relevant, fit for purpose and supports positive personal, social, cultural and academic development whilst promoting a rights-based approach.

We also highlight the need for meaningful engagement and participation in decision-making for learners and their families as part of any reform.

Amy Woodhouse, Head of Policy, Projects and Participation, said:

“The discussions around education reform are long overdue. We welcome the ongoing review of the Curriculum for Excellence and support calls to update and upgrade the national curriculum structure.

“It is imperative we learn from developments in education policy and research, as well as listen to what today’s young people are telling us about their experiences. This will ensure we have a system that will both develop and nurture the young people of today and help create successful adults of the future.  It must also recognise that success looks different to different people and isn’t always about the ‘high stakes’ exam format.

“In addition, the young people we work with, whether it be the Inclusion Ambassadors, the Education Youth Recovery Panel and our own children and young people’s advisory group, have all consistently raised issues around a lack of clarity, communication and involvement in decisions around education delivery and assessment. This needs to change.

“Children and young people are key stakeholders and deserve to have equal space in this process. Their active and meaningful future engagement in the shape, delivery and assessment of their education will not only ensure we have a system fit for purpose, but will help realise the ambitions of the UNCRC in delivering education that is child-centred, child-friendly and empowering for all."

Within our consultation response, we also call for all decisions around reform to fully consider all children involved within the education system, including those in the early years and children and young people with additional support needs.

The consultation was launched on behalf of Professor Ken Muir, who has been appointed as independent advisor for proposed changes to Scotland’s national education agencies.

Recommendations on reform are expected to be submitted to Ministers in January 2022.

Click here to read our consultation response in full

Education Reform

Find out more about the Scottish Government's consultation on reform

Click to visit the website

Children in Scotland's Manifesto 2021-26

Rights, Early Years and Learning all feature as themes in our manifesto for change

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Professional Teaching Standards review

Our GTCS partnership work produced recommendations from young people

Click to find out more

Inclusion Ambassadors

The young people ensuring those with ASN are heard in education policy and practice discussions

Click to find out more