National Qualifications and ‘Multi-Course’ Teaching

The SSTA conducted a survey of members in June following the end of the National Qualification cycle on the extent of ‘Multi-Course’ teaching in S4 classes. The SSTA received 1,247 responses that showed a wide disparity of practice in each local authority across Scotland.

The SSTA has continuously campaigned for the unfairness, to both pupils and teachers, of multi-course teaching to be addressed. The response to the survey brings strong evidence for action to be taken to give all pupils an opportunity to reach their full potential.

Teachers have highlighted the difficulties in trying to teach more than one course in a class when the content is completely different. This has resulted in an impossible workload for teachers and a frustration that they are unable to concentrate on all the pupils all of the time.

‘Multi-course’ teaching is an attempt to teach more than one National qualification specialist subject course concurrently within the same class. For example: Teaching Mathematics National 4, National 5 and Higher courses at the same time.

The pupils in this instance don’t get a full lesson of teaching and they only get a third of the teachers’ time. Yet this is quite common within subjects despite Nat 4, Nat 5 and Higher being different courses. Pupils are being ‘short-changed’. We believe most parents are unaware of the situation their children are facing in school.

There appears to be a complete lack of understanding on those who put teachers in this position and for the sake of pupils and teachers this needs to change. Teachers are under-pressure to raise standards and improve the schools’ place on the league table rankings without the time and a class all following the same course.

The SSTA expected the survey to find evidence that smaller rural schools had a larger proportion of multi-course classes but was surprised by a high number of multi-course teaching in large urban schools where the numbers alone should ensure more single course classes. The survey identified a large number of pupils that were being placed in classes where more than one course was being taught at the same time.

Seamus Searson, SSTA General Secretary said “this survey has highlighted the wide variance of practice that teachers are expected to work within despite concerns raised by teachers over a number of years. The practice of multi-course teaching has wrongly become the norm in most schools in Scotland”.

“It is concerning that in a time when the focus is meeting the needs for all pupils that only a minority of pupils are finding themselves in a class with all their peers following the same course”.  

“The high number of classes with two or three courses being accommodated in a class in S4 should be a major concern for all. Just focussing at the median figures in the different categories should be a wake-up call. Only 23% of classes are single qualification, 51% of classes have two qualifications, and 21% of classes having three qualifications. The survey does show that the vast majority of pupils are not in single qualification classes”.

“There are many factors as to why this is happening in schools and further investigation needs to be undertaken in curriculum design, timetabling, national qualifications, school league tables, class sizes, staffing difficulties and the notion of pupil choice”

The main findings:

Single Qualification Course in S4 Class

The range of classes from 63% in East Renfrewshire in single course classes down to 7% in South Ayrshire. The median average within the survey was 23% of single course classes for Glasgow, East Lothian and Highland. The survey also included members in Independent schools where 69% of classes were found to have single qualification classes.

Two Qualification Courses in S4 Class

The range of classes from 64% of classes in South Ayrshire containing pupils on two qualification courses down to 29% in East Renfrewshire. The median average within the survey was 51% of two course classes in Aberdeenshire and Falkirk. In Independent schools the figure was 22%.

Three Qualification Courses in S4 Class

The range of classes from 36% of classes in East Ayrshire containing pupils on three qualification courses down to 3% in East Dunbartonshire. The median average within the survey was 21% of three course classes in Aberdeenshire and Falkirk. In Independent schools the figure was 9%.

Four Qualification Courses in S4 Class

The range of classes from 10% of classes in Aberdeen City containing pupils on four qualification courses down to 1% in Fife. The median average within the survey was 3% of four course classes in East Dunbartonshire, East Lothian and Scottish Borders. The authorities with no classes with four qualification courses were East Renfrewshire, Dundee, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire and Stirling. In Independent schools the figure was 0%.

Two and Three Qualification Courses in S4 Class

The range of classes from 89% of classes in Aberdeen City containing pupils on two or three qualification courses down to 37% in East Renfrewshire. The median average within the survey was 72% of two or three course classes in Aberdeen City, Fife, Aberdeenshire and South Lanarkshire. In Independent schools the figure was 31%.

Two, Three or Four Qualification Courses in S4 Class

The range of classes from 93% of classes in South Ayrshire containing pupils on two, three or four qualification courses down to 37% in East Renfrewshire. The median average within the survey was 77% of two, three or four course classes in Glasgow, East Lothian and Highland. In Independent schools the figure was 31%.

(Ends)

Note to Editors.

The SSTA represents nearly 7,000 members in secondary schools in Scotland.

Attached

  1. Full list of survey results
  2. Comments made by SSTA members

Please note: the survey took place in June 2019 with 1,247 responses. Not all local authorities have been included due to insufficient responses to give a reasonable picture of the practice within the authority.  

Published on 24 September 2019 - Information for Members / Press Releases