Like many members, I took very seriously the Education and Skills Committee’s concerns when it undertook its inquiry into subject choice, but I do not think that we are reflecting the full conclusions of the report. There is a failure to recognise that we are comparing what happened previously in relation to national qualifications with how curriculum for excellence is designed to work. Indeed, how curriculum for excellence works and advances that have been made are still not recognised in the statistics.
We do ourselves and our pupils and teachers a disservice if we look only at the numbers. For example, my son, who has just graduated in music, was not able to do advanced higher music at his school, because it was not available on the curriculum. If we looked just at his school timetable, we would think that the option was not available. However, he was able to do that subject, of course, because there was an arrangement in the local authority to enable people to travel to do qualifications outwith the school—in another school, for example. Work has been done to ensure that pupils get opportunities to study what they want to study, and I think that that is being missed in the debate—yet again. It is important that we consider curriculum for excellence in the round and the outcomes for young people.
I would share people’s concern if there were proven to be a lack of progress on attainment and if people were being disadvantaged, but that is not what I see and it is not what universities and colleges are seeing. There is a great uptake in applications to university and more of our young people are getting on and doing what they want to do.
I emphasise again that, just as we all recognise and support the principles of curriculum for excellence, we all supported the developing the young workforce programme, which absolutely was about preparing our young people for the workplace. That means that additional qualifications, voluntary qualifications, Duke of Edinburgh awards, foundation apprenticeships, college access courses and so on are just as important to the outcomes as the list of qualifications is. I hope that we can move away from the current approach to the debate.
I share people’s concerns, which is why the committee asked the Government to research a number of areas. We know that the independent review of the senior phase is about to get under way. We asked the Government to consider the impact of different curricular models, because the situation is complex and not easy to understand just by counting pupil numbers or results.
I will give another example. Many more pupils are going straight to higher level qualifications without taking the equivalent of a standard grade qualification, which is the national 4 qualification. That shows in the statistics as a reduction in the number of nat 4 qualifications, but we know that schools are taking the opportunity to enable pupils to miss out that phase and go straight to higher qualifications.
That is why the independent review must consider curricular models and what is happening on the ground in our schools. I really hope that we can move forward positively on the issue.
I thank Ross Greer for making the important point that we cannot consider what is happening in our schools without looking at the great impact that austerity and other decisions of the Conservative Party are having on families in our communities. It is much, much harder for people to achieve things when they cannot get the basics of life right—we need only look to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to know just how important that is.