Frequent Asked Questions
Is the status quo an option or do you have to change things?
The status quo is something we have considered but it is clear that it would not be the best way of meeting the needs of all our young people. As the changes which are needed further down the school happen, the status quo will become more and more problematic.
Why do you have to change things?
The world of work is changing very quickly and this is set to continue. We want our young people to be as well prepared for this as possible. We don’t think our curriculum offer for young people in the senior school (S4 to S6) is as good as it could be. We want to increase the range and type of courses that are available to young people. There are lots of new sorts of courses on offer and our young people cannot easily take advantage of these at present – the National Parent Forum leaflet on Progression in the Senior Phase gives details of these courses. Scotland has made good progress in reducing youth unemployment and Portobello High School has a good track record in this area. However, we think we could still do better.
What happens if numbers aren’t great enough to run classes?
This is a challenge we already face in S3 upwards (as do all schools). Being a large school, we are fortunate that numbers usually mean we have viable class sizes. By making the changes we propose, we will be in an even better position. Where there is still a difficulty, we would continue to work with those affected to try and find alternative solutions.
I would like to be assured that a subject dropped at S3 could be picked up at National 5 in S5 and Higher in S6
Yes. That said, we want to support young people to make informed choices and it is better to avoid picking up a vital subject in this way if possible. The proposals will increase flexibility for all young people. We expect to offer a greater range of courses and improve our current offer. Part of this will be the chance to study subjects which may not have been taken in S4. We will also offer more scope for lateral progression (more qualifications at the same level) which is a more valuable option for some young people.
Are current S2 pupils still choosing the electives at the end of S2? When will they sit exams?
The current S2 will be the transition year and they will still choose their qualification subjects at the end of S2 as we need to work the current 2-year programme out of the system. The only difference for the current S2 is that they will choose one fewer subject than previous years. The current S1 will choose their qualification subjects at the end of S3. Exams will be at the end of S4 for both year groups.
If the emphasis is on flexibility, why can’t 8 subjects at National 5 be considered for more academic pupils?
This would very seriously limit the combinations of subjects we could offer. It would also significantly increase the chances of courses being withdrawn due to low uptake. The reason for this is that we would need to treat the 7-subject and 8-subject choice process totally separately and pupils would not be able to ‘pick-and-mix’ across the different systems. Only around a fifth of our young people achieve eight awards at National 5 and very few achieve top grades in all eight. Many young people have told us they feel overloaded and under too much pressure studying for eight qualifications. We think that a slight reduction in the number of qualifications in S4 will lead to improved attainment at Higher in S5 and S6 and will better serve all of our young people.
What do Universities think of the proposals?
Most schools in Scotland have already reduced the number of courses studies in S4, so this is not new for Universities. From our research, we have found that schools across Scotland are offering the following number of subjects in S4:
- 8 subjects circa 50 schools
- 7 subjects circa 100 schools
- 6 subjects circa 150 schools
- 5 subjects circa 20 schools
In moving to seven subjects, we are confident we would not be disadvantaging our young people against their competitors in other schools. Since in excess of 80% of our young people stay on progress from S4 to S5 and a similar proportion stay on from S5 to S6, we are looking at opportunities for the majority of young people to improve their attainment in S5/6.
Highers are the ‘gold standard’ for University entry, and the total number of qualifications below this level is not as significant. Therefore, young people who want to go to university will have improved chances if they have improved Higher grades. If the research is correct, we would see an increase in performance at Higher, which would increase the competitive edge young people from Portobello have against those from other schools. We feel that moving to six subjects is excessively narrowing at this stage in a pupil’s education. Pupils, parents and staff echo this sentiment.
For entry to the most competitive university courses that require five Highers in one sitting, this proposal should enhance rather than diminish young people’s chances of success.
Why are PSE and RME mandatory? Science or languages are much more important.
We have a legal requirement to deliver Religious and Moral Education (RME) so this is non-negotiable. PSE helps to equip pupils with the knowledge and skills to make good choices in life and all schools are expected to deliver a personal and social education programme. We do not have PSE in our S5/6 curriculum and feedback from senior pupils shows that this is something many of them miss.
Why are English and Maths the only compulsory qualifications?
All young people are expected to have some level of qualification in English and Maths by the time they leave school. Beyond that we believe that young people should be able to choose the courses which they feel are most suitable for them and that they will be more motivated by following courses which they want to study, rather than courses which they have been forced to choose.
We will continue to encourage all young people to keep a broad, balanced curriculum in order to maximise opportunities later in life. By adopting a flexible approach to building the curriculum, we will be able to offer pathways that suit a wider range of young people and their aspirations, skills and interests. For example, in the last two years, a revised approach to managing the choices process has led to young people in S3/4 taking two languages for the first time in many years. Already, increasing numbers are taking two languages and doing well. We believe it is important that, as far as possible, we flex our systems to meet the needs of young people rather than expecting young people to flex to meet our rigid systems.
Will there be vocational learning?
The review of the S1 to S3 curriculum will take into account the requirements of the Careers Education Standard. We recognise that there is more to do to ensure that young people understand the options open to them as they enter the Senior Phase of the school. Good information for young people and parents at an early stage supports good choices at key points. The evidence we have gathered tells us that we have work to do in supporting young people in making good choices and helping parents understand the range of options that are available.
How can pupils be supported so that exams from S4 onwards aren’t such a shock to the system?
Many young people have told us that they feel under a lot of pressure at exam time. While learning to cope with pressure is part of growing up and is a valuable skill for life and work, we know that too much pressure can be damaging. Reducing the number of courses which young people study at once will help to address this. We will also consider ways in which young people can be better prepared for the more formal nature of assessment as part of our next phase of curriculum review when we look in more detail at S1-3.
How would learners be able to pick up subjects in S5/6 when not studied in S3?
This happens already for a number of pupils. Through having a wider range of courses available for S5 pupils, we would expect to be able to improve the offer to pupils who find they need to pick up a ‘new’ subject in S5/6. The increased number of courses at various levels would offer smoother progression pathways for pupils at S4, S5 and S6.
Would it be possible for pupils to ‘semi-specialise’ in S3 but make final subject choices in S3?
This is the model we are working towards; this model will be in place for 2019/20. Re-structuring the S3 curriculum is more complex than the S4 one and we want to carefully evaluate the models other schools are using and learn from their experiences. We will also need to review our S1 and S2 courses at the same time. For this reason, we are taking a staged approach. There will be further consultation on this during the remainder of this session and into 2018/19.
Can P7 curriculum be changed to prepare pupils better for the breadth of the High School Curriculum?
Portobello High School has good working relationships with our cluster primary schools. The transition from primary to secondary is something that is well supported by all schools and is always under review. We will continue to work as a team to ensure a smooth transition from P7 to S1 for our pupils. Due to the very different ways in which primary and secondary schools are structured, it would be difficult to replicate a secondary curriculum in a primary school. We will continue to work with our associate primary schools to make improvements where possible.
How will you manage the current S2 through the S3 transition to a new system?
We have decided to introduce the new S4 model into S3 for session 2018/19. This will mean that the current S2 simply choose 7 subjects instead of 8. We feel that this method is the most beneficial for the pupils affected by the changes. We did consider whether young people could choose 8 subjects in S2 and drop one at the end of S3 but it was clear that this was likely to be very difficult and included an unacceptable level of risk and uncertainty.