ONE of the key architects of Scotland's school reforms has called for an emergency halt to address a debilitating "postcode lottery" in educational opportunities. 

Keir Bloomer, chair of the think-tank Reform Scotland’s Commission on School Reform, said Scotland is "in grave danger of minimising the potential of a generation of our young people". 

It follows concerns the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) reforms introduced to Scotland's schools from 2010 have led to a narrowing of subject choice. 

Reform Scotland previously published evidence showing the number of exams pupils can sit in fourth year is falling, with subject choices becoming dependent on where children went to school, rather than their ability.

No private schools had reduced the number of exams, it found, but most state schools have.

The think-tank has now called on the Scottish Government to urgently change its advice to schools so that all pupils are again permitted to sit eight exams in S4, rather than six under the new system. 

Mr Bloomer, who helped draw up Scotland's school reforms but was not involved in their implementation, said: “CfE was supposed to broaden education and opportunity, but it is becoming increasingly clear that its implementation is narrowing it.

“We are seeing a postcode lottery where pupils who are capable of successfully sitting eight exams are being prevented from so doing. 

"This is narrowing their education and limiting their prospects as they move towards Highers and then to college or university."

In 2014, as part of CfE, the Standard Grade exams system was replaced with National 4 and 5s. While Standard Grades were taught over S3 and S4, National 4 and 5s can be studied in S4 only. 

The concept of Broad General Education (BGE), previously studied in S1 and S2, was extended up to the end of S3. 

However, Reform Scotland said this change to a single year of study has had a timetabling consequence. As a result, the majority of state schools now allow pupils to sit a maximum of only six National 4s and 5s, rather than eight.

The think-tank's research, first conducted in 2016 and repeated earlier this year, highlighted that some schools have ignored the change to S3 and still allow pupils to study subjects over two years. This means their pupils continue to sit up to eight exams. This has created a "huge difference in opportunity based purely on where a child goes to school", Reform Scotland said, while the situation has worsened over the period of research.

It highlighted the fact that the reduction in exams in S4 had not occurred in the private sector nor in many schools with good academic records.

Mr Bloomer added: “The Scottish Government must put an urgent stop to this by making it clear to all schools that pupils may sit eight exams, and that BGE can once again cease after S2. They can do this temporarily until they get a grip on what is going on here, but do it they must, for we are in grave danger of minimising the potential of a generation of our young people.”

The latest call comes after international education tests reported record low results in science and maths among Scottish school pupils.

The 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) survey – which measures the performance of 600,000 15-year-olds worldwide – also showed Scotland's youngsters are performing substantially worse in maths, reading and science than they did when comparisons began around the turn of the millennium.

The CfE has come under repeated scrutiny since it was instituted, with Professor Jim Scott of Dundee University saying last month that the system was having a "negative effect" on pupils.

Prof Scott's paper insisted that, had the Scottish Government known when the idea was mooted in 2006 about the issues it would cause, CfE would never have moved forward.

The Scottish Government has announced a review into the senior phase of school, but Reform Scotland insisted this "does nothing to address the continuing reduction in choice that pupils face". 

In a briefing paper, it added: "This cannot continue. While the review looks to a long-term solution, a short-term solution is required for pupils currently approaching S4 exams".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The number of courses on offer to pupils has increased and young people can choose from a much broader range of pathways than before.

“This analysis takes no account of differences before and after the introduction of CfE, which helps equip pupils with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century.

"It means pupils learn a wide range of subjects up to S3. Schools then have the freedom to design a set of courses, qualifications and awards between S4 and S6, tailored to meet young people’s needs.

“What matters is the qualifications that pupils leave school with and last year a record proportion went on to positive destinations including work, training or further study.”