COUNCILS have defended a squeeze on the number of traditional subjects on offer in Scottish secondary schools.

Local authorities said the reduction was an inevitable consequence of a broader range of choice for pupils in other areas of the curriculum.

The comments came after growing concerns an unintended consequence of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has been a narrowing of subject choice in S4.

Traditionally, pupils would have taken eight or nine subjects, but this has been reduced to as few as six or even five in some areas.

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Academics warned the reduction - which has hit modern languages, geography and some science and technology subjects - is restricting opportunities for pupils.

However, councils told the Scottish Parliament’s education committee pupils now have a much wider choice of options - including apprenticeships and vocational qualifications - that suit the needs of pupils of all abilities.

Vincent Docherty, head of education at Aberdeenshire Council, said he previously worked in a school where fewer than ten per cent of pupils would achieve five or more Highers, but the timetable was structured around their needs.

He said: “It is a much more complex world and the future is going to be even more complex so in terms of preparing youngsters ... it is inevitable that there is going to have to be this increasingly complex mixture of experiences and skills and qualifications.

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“I think that is best delivered through the model that CfE has identified. In relation to the other qualifications that youngsters can get, as well as those getting five Highers, it serves in a much more equitable way a much bigger range of the population.”

Gerry Lyons, representing the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, told the committee CfE was an opportunity to meet the needs of young people not well served by traditional curriculum models.

And he argued the choice afforded by CfE helped pupils see a purpose to education which motivated them in a way that was not possible before.

He said: “In some ways you might see less young people doing the subjects, but those young people will be more motivated, they will see the relevance of it.”

Mr Lyons said even pupils who did not take up as many academic subjects in S4 would still have learned at an appropriate level over the first three years of secondary school.

However, Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, raised concerns about the narrowing of choice.

She said: “Parents particularly feel very uneasy about that and that is one of the reasons why there is concern.

“I think there is a genuine concern that the choices of the core curriculum are being squeezed in schools and this is a concern to employers, never mind to people in our education sector.”

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And Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, warned of a lack of consistency across the country.

He said: “There seems to be a difference not only between schools, but between local authorities.”

Last month, a report by the Reform Scotland think tank showed the number of National 4 and National 5 qualifications on offer was 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.

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, also defended CfE, arguing it established the ethos that passing exams was not the same as learning.

He said: “We live in a country that doesn’t just place emphasis on the retention of facts. We have to move the debate away from focusing solely on qualifications.”