SCOTTISH parents are turning their backs on state schools as a result of flagship reforms intended to improve classroom standards, the headteacher of a leading private school has said.

Cameron Wyllie, principal of George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, said families coming from comprehensive schools to the private sector in the third year of secondary blamed a lack of challenge for able pupils under Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

Mr Wyllie went on to call for radical changes to be made in the early years of secondary to allow bright pupils in the state sector to work towards a greater number of examinations.

Read more: Curriculum for Excellence has 'led to unsustainable workloads in schools'

His intervention came just days after inspectors launched a clampdown on schools ignoring fundamental parts of Scotland's new curriculum.

One of the underlying philosophies of CfE was the introduction of a broad general education in the first three years of secondary to allow pupils to develop their learning without the immediate pressure of exams.

However, many schools are still pushing pupils into exam choices before the end of third year because they believe it gives them an appropriate focus and challenge for their learning. It also allows pupils to sit more qualifications.


Instead, Education Scotland inspectors want to make sure schools focus on learning which contributes to later qualifications without being explicitly centred on formal exam choices.

Mr Wyllie, who was commenting in a personal capacity, said his school was experiencing a sharp increase in applicants for S3 entry with numbers rising from 25 in 2015 to 45 in 2016. He said he had heard anecdotally that other independent schools were reporting a similar increase in demand.

"This, almost entirely, comes down to parental dissatisfaction with the broad general education now insisted upon in Scottish schools as part of the CfE package," he said.

Read more: Curriculum for Excellence coming up short for pupils

"This policy that children should continue with a broad education into S3 rather than selecting seven or eight subjects to study for two years... has always been deeply perplexing to me.

"My first concrete suggestion would be that the policy of broad general education in S3 should be dropped. I think this would be very attractive to informed parents... and would improve standards in literacy and numeracy since pupils would spend more time on English and maths."

Mr Wyllie, whose comments were first published in a blog on the Sceptical Scot website, went on to warn that parents, teachers and headteachers were "frightened to rock the boat" because the educational establishment "is increasingly removed from the real world of schools" and "does not respond well to criticism".


He added: "There is much too much money being spent on education in Scotland, including the secondment of senior staff from schools to do questionable jobs at Education Scotland, and not nearly enough money being spent on schools, where headteachers and their staff feel increasingly powerless.

"Colleagues in the state sector, old and young, are scared to raise their heads above the parapet. To undo this would be a radical step but it is, in essence, the root of the problem."

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union described the comments as a "fairly superficial take" on what was happening in Scotland's state schools.

Read more: Scotland's curriculum seen as 'mystery tour', warns John Swinney

He said: "We would agree there is an absolute need for S3 to be a challenging year, but that does not necessarily equate to be the pursuit of qualifications. The issue of vocational pathways is rightly highlighted as it remains one of the undelivered aims of CfE."