Improving Social Justice in Scottish education I

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It was a pleasure to be asked to speak at the SEAS Improving Social Justice in Scottish Education event on Saturday 17th August. Thanks to all who came along and spent their Saturday morning listening and engaging with some of my research into subject choice. Thanks particularly to Bill Butler, SEAS Convenor,  for having me along and to Ross McArthur, who gave a fantastic presentation on his experience within a ‘different kind of senior phase’.
My presentation focused upon senior phase subject choices and how these have changed under the Curriculum for Excellence, why the number of subject choices available has narrowed and some of the opportunities that have also arisen as a result of the reforms.
The subject choices process is incredibly important for a plethora of reasons. Firstly, it begins to streamline the opportunities that will be available to young people upon leaving school. They allow specialisation in pursuit of a certain pathway for young people – whether that be an apprenticeship, a certain job or career or a course in further or higher education. Further, each stage of choices also potentially limits the next set, which means that each stage of subject selection carries profound importance to the person making their learning decisions. Perhaps most importantly, the choices process should allow for a young person to have a balanced curriculum with adequate breadth and depth to allow them to fulfil their potential and become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors as the Curriculum for Excellence succinctly describes.
There is a decent literature concerning choices and what influences young people going through the process. Broadly these are –
  • Social Influence of teachers, peers and parents
  • Motivations – the balance between what subjects young people find useful, enjoyable and  difficult
  • Perceptions of the self, and the schools’ perception of the pupils
  • Governance and Policy – what actual choices are available is dictated by policy at all levels
Though it is important to note that all four themes are heavily influenced by socio-economic background of the individual pupil and the school that they attend. My presentation at the event focused primarily upon governance and policy in Scotland. I thought I would take the opportunity to share the presentation, which can be accessed here –
Perhaps of particular interest is new research which shows the correlation
between average entries to SQA qualifications and Free School Meals in the Greater Glasgow region.
I have written about the other influences here –
Thanks again to SEAS for having me along and I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on anything mentioned. You can get me by email at or on Twitter @BarryBlackNE.

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