Reform Scotland


Former Director of Education concerned at some pupils being placed at a disadvantage

Reform Scotland, the independent think tank, has released research showing a large variation across Scotland in the number of National 4s and National 5s pupils are permitted to sit.

In some cases the variation is between local authorities, however in others there is variation within council areas.

The practical implication is that some pupils are permitted to sit only 5 examinations, while others are allowed to sit 8. This is not a choice for an individual pupil and their parents – it is a mandatory maximum, and it leads to a situation where different pupils have different numbers of qualifications based not on ability but on a decision made by their school or local authority.

The briefing – National 4s and 5s: Unintended Consequences includes full tables containing detailed information on individual schools in Scotland.

Commenting, Keir Bloomer, a Reform Scotland advisory board member and Chair of the Commission on School Reform, and a former Director of Education at Clackmannanshire Council, said:

“Our research shows that inequality of opportunity is now built into our examination system, not by the SQA but by decisions made mainly at council level. This is an unintended consequence of the way Curriculum for Excellence is being interpreted.

“The intention was to extend the broader education provided in S1 and S2 into S3, with students beginning their examination courses in S4 only.  Decisions to reduce the number of subjects a student may sit seem to have been based on a crude calculation of the number of hours of study available in S4. However, this is effectively saying that nothing studied in earlier years counts towards the knowledge of the subject required for the exams.

“Curriculum for Excellence had the admirable aim of broadening our children’s education, but in this case it is narrowing it.

“This is not an issue of the preferences or ability of the student. Instead, it is a lottery based on the school a young person attends. The result is that a very able student at one school could emerge with fewer qualifications than a similarly able student at a different school.

“Through no fault of their own, certain young children will be disadvantaged in the job and university market, and it is important to shine a light on this so that parents, universities and employers are aware of it.”