REDUCED subject choice in Scottish state schools is creating a new attainment gap with the independent sector, a think tank has warned.

New figures from Reform Scotland show the number of National 4 and National 5 qualifications on offer is continuing to decline.

A majority of schools now only offer six subjects in the fourth year of secondary school compared to eight or nine a few years ago. In contrast, private schools are continuing to offer up to nine.

Chris Deerin, director of Reform Scotland, said the reduction was an unintended consequence of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

He said: “We are in real danger of opening up a new type of attainment gap in Scotland - one where children who are allowed to sit eight or nine National 4s or 5s will have a distinct advantage over those restricted to five or six.

“The schools cutting the number of exams on offer are typically those serving our more deprived communities, further limiting the life opportunities of children who may already be disadvantaged.”

The warning follows freedom of information requests by Reform Scotland which revealed that in 2016 all schools in Edinburgh, East Dunbartonshire and Dumfries and Galloway offered eight exams.

Now no schools in either East Dunbartonshire or Dumfries and Galloway offer eight and the number in some Edinburgh schools has dropped to six.

Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, said reduced subject choice was “cutting off opportunities” for young people.

He said: “Education was supposed to be the government’s top priority, and yet pupils are missing out on opportunities to study a greater breadth of subjects at school.

“This is in part because of their implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, but also about the impact of teacher shortages.”

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said restricted subject choice was hitting science subjects.

She said: “Schools have restricted choice at the very time employers, colleges and universities are warning of the economic impact of shortages in key Stem skills.”

However, a Scottish Government spokeswoman defended Curriculum for Excellence, claiming the flexibility it provided allowed schools design more a more tailored education for pupils.

She said: “What matters is the qualifications and awards that pupils leave school with, and not only what they study in S4.

“Almost two-thirds now leave school in S6, and last year a record proportion went on to positive destinations including work, training or further study. Young people now have opportunities to study towards a much broader range of qualifications.”