03 SES 05 A, Systemic Curriculum Reform
The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) seeks to provide a broad competency-based education suited to the demands of the 21st century and is underpinned by strong values relating to social equity. It is accompanied by a variety of policy agendas with an equally explicit focus on equity. Yet, contrary to policy intentions, there is evidence of curriculum narrowing and a reduction of choice in the senior phase of secondary education (Shapira and Priestley, 2018). In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, there is no standardised certification system in which students need to take a certain number of compulsory subjects to complete secondary education and qualify for entry to Higher Education. There is also no formal selection and tracking into academic versus vocational subjects. Thus, subject choice effectively replaces formal tracking into academic and vocational subjects and becomes an important factor in the reproduction of socio-economic inequality (Iannelli, 2013; Iannelli & Smyth, 2017).
Decisions made by schools concerning the configuration of subjects available to study during the middle-to-senior stages of secondary school are highly consequential. These are linked to subject choices made by students at ages 15-16 and to their educational and later life outcomes. Existing research evidence on the curriculum choices of young people shows that prior to CfE implementation these choices were socially patterned. There are differences in subject uptake by parental social class and the social inequalities in subject choice in S3/S4 are also reproduced in S5/S6 (Iannelli et al., 2016; Playford et al., 2016). Therefore, the emerging evidence of the narrowing of subject choice under CfE could be particularly detrimental for young people from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and affect their prospects of making a successful school-to-work transition and/or entering Higher Education.
Indeed, analysis of administrative data on subject enrolment shows that the average number of subject entries for National 5 level qualifications declined from 7.26 in 2013 to 5.22 in 2017 with schools in areas of higher deprivation seeing a more rapid decrease in subject choice in year 4 of secondary education (S4) (Shapira & Priestley, 2019). It seems likely that CfE has limited learning opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet with the exception of some analysis of publicly available data aggregated at the level of local authorities and schools, there is a lack of a robust evidence for drawing conclusions about the effects of contemporary patterns of curriculum provision in secondary schools in Scotland on young people's educational outcomes.
The aim of this study is to explore the relationship between students’ socio-economic background, characteristics of their schools, and the number of subjects they select at age 15 for National 5 level qualifications, over the period of the implementation of CfE (2011-2014/15). Examining whether the reduction in subject choice under CfE is socially stratified.
The aim of this paper will be addressed through the following research questions:
- Is there evidence of curriculum narrowing in the senior phase over the period of the introduction of CfE?
- Is there evidence of changes in the configuration of subject choices over the period of the introduction of CfE?
- What are the relationships between the number of subject choices and family characteristics?
- What are the relationships between the configurations of subject choice and family characteristics?
- Is there evidence that the relationships between the number of subject choices and family characteristics have changed over the period of the introduction of CfE?
- Have the relationships between the configurations of subject choice and school characteristics changed over the period of the introduction of CfE?
Analysis will focus on a comparison between two cohorts of young people – those who went through the S3-S6 years of secondary education between 2011-2012, prior to the CfE introduction, and those who went through the S4-S6 years of secondary education from 2013-onwards. This study uses a subset from the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS), a 5% sample of Scottish Censuses, linked with administrative and statistical sources, including education data (such as SQA examination results and School Census data). This dataset provides longitudinal information on the subject choices, attainment, and post-school destinations of cohorts of young people aged 15 to 19, and allows us to investigate the impact of parental socio-economic background on these areas. Currently, the SLS data is linked with administrative educational data up to 2014-2015. Thus, the subset of the SLS data used comprises young people who were born between 1996 and 2000, and who went through the upper stages of secondary education (S3-S6) in 2011-2014(15). This subsample is representative of young people from the respective birth cohorts who lived in Scotland before 2011 and went through secondary education in Scotland during 2011-2014(15). Data will be explored using descriptive and advanced techniques of statistical data analysis including linear and logit regression modelling, in order to gain insights into the: • changing trends in number and configuration of subject choices; • factors that affect subject choice (in S4) and attainment in S4; • relationships between subject choice in S3-S4 and attainment S4 under CfE, and if this relationship is being mediated by young people's family background and by characteristics of schools they attend, before and after the introduction of the CfE; Dependent variables: -Number of subjects entered for National 5 level qualifications in S4 -Number of sciences entered -Number of modern languages entered -Number of social sciences entered -Number of vocational subjects entered -Whether entered one or more modern language(s) and one or more sciences and one of more social subjects at National 5 level -Number of A, B and C passes on National 5 level qualifications -Whether passed one or more modern language(s) and one or more sciences and one of more social subjects at National 5 level Whether have at least 5 A-C passes on National 5 level Independent variables: Family SES, number of siblings, age, stage of education, gender, previous attainment, local area characteristics; schools characteristics; year; time period – before/after implementation CfE.
Analysis at the aggregate level of secondary schools in Scotland shows the average number of subject entries for National 5 level qualifications (typically taken in S4) declined between 2013 and 2016 (Shapira and Priestley, 2018). Schools in areas of higher socio-economic deprivation saw a more rapid decrease in subject choice in S4 compared to schools in areas of low socio-economic deprivation (Shapira and Priestley, 2019), suggesting that curriculum narrowing is socially stratified. Moreover, the senior phase curriculum has become more differentiated by characteristics of schools than prior to the introduction of new qualifications. In this study, we build on that work using SLS data which provides us with a unique opportunity to explore subject choice and attainment over the period of the CfE introduction at the level of individual learners and to include in the analysis detailed information about young people's family context. We expect to find that curriculum narrowing disproportionally affects learners from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, both in terms of the number of subjects studied and the composition of those subjects, compounding the effects of school-level deprivation and attainment found in more aggregated analysis. In particular, we expect that learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds, attending low attaining schools, in disadvantaged areas, will be less likely to select: three STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects; two or more modern languages; or, two or more social sciences for National 5 level qualifications, compared to the period before implementation of the CfE and well as compared with their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds under the new curriculum. These findings are significant for social mobility with curriculum narrowing and reduction in choice impacting adversely on opportunities from socio-economically disadvantaged young people. Further, they are of international interest as they provide insights to inform curriculum making and national educational policy-making in other contexts.
Iannelli, C. (2013). The role of the school curriculum in social mobility. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34, 907–928. Iannelli, C., Smyth, E. and Klein, M. (2016), Curriculum differentiation and social inequality in higher education entry in Scotland and Ireland. British Educational Research Journal, 42, 561-581. Iannelli, C. and Smyth, E. (2017), Curriculum choices and school-to-work transitions among upper-secondary school-leavers in Scotland and Ireland. Journal of Education and Work. 30, 731-740. Playford, C. J., Gayle, V., Connelly, R. and Murray, S. (2016), Parental socioeconomic influences on filial educational outcomes in Scotland: patterns of school-level educational performance using administrative data, Contemporary Social Science, 11, 2-3, 183-202. Shapira, M. and Priestley, M. (2018), Narrowing the Curriculum? Contemporary trends in provision and attainment in the Scottish Curriculum. Scottish Review of Education, 51, 75-107. Shapira, M. and Priestley, M. (2019), Do schools matter? An exploration of the determinants of lower secondary school subject choices under the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Review of Education, 8, 191-238.
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