Whole generation let down by ‘subject choice crisis’, Tories claim

By Katrine Bussey, Political Editor, Press Association Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon is letting down a generation of pupils as youngsters aged between 14 and 18 face being taught in the same class together, the Tories have claimed.

Scottish Conservative interim leader Jackson Carlaw launched a fierce attack on the First Minister over what he branded the “subject choice crisis” in schools.

He pressed her on the issue after MSPs on Holyrood’s Education Committee were told some schools were having to teach pupils studying for National 4, National 5 and Higher qualifications in the same class.

The Tories claim National 4, National 5 and Higher qualifications are at times all being taught in the same classroom (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Tory leader said: “Curriculum for Excellence is so confusing with too few teachers, pupils at different levels are being taught together.

“Not just at National 4 and 5 but at Higher, too. In consequence, a 14-year-old and even an 18-year-old could be being taught in the same classroom.

“I don’t think that is appropriate.”

His attack came days after think tank Reform Scotland found only a “minority” of state schools allow pupils to sit more than six exams in S4 – compared to independent schools that typically continue to offer eight or nine.

“We were once famed around the world for our breadth of education, now Curriculum for Education is narrowing horizons,” Mr Carlaw said.

Pressing Ms Sturgeon on the issue at First Minister’s Questions, he said: “Despite the best efforts of our teachers, despite the hard work of our pupils, a whole generation let down on her watch.

“Can the First Minister not see this for the failure of government that it is?”

Nicola Sturgeon said the percentage of pupils gaining Higher qualifications is up (John Linton/PA)

Ms Sturgeon hit back, however, saying results showed more pupils than ever before were leaving school with qualifications.

She stressed what mattered was “choice and breadth across the entirety of the senior phase” of school, not just in S4.

The First Minister said: “What we see if the percentage of pupils getting qualifications at level 5 or above is up, the percentage leaving with Highers is up.

“Back in 2009, the percentage of pupils getting five Highers or more was 22%, last year that was more than 30%

“We see the attainment gap between rich and poor in Highers at an all-time low, we see a record number of school leavers now  in higher education, we see school leavers from the most deprived areas in higher education up eight percentage points from a decade ago.”

She criticised Mr Carlaw for raising the issue on the day pupils across Scotland start their exams, saying: “I think we should be paying tribute to the excellent work they’re doing.”