Major new study to examine curriculum provision in Scottish secondary schools

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The structure of the Scottish secondary school curriculum – and its impacts on the lives of pupils – will be examined by University of Stirling academics.

The University of Stirling research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, will be led by Dr Marina Shapira from the Faculty of Social Sciences. She will be supported by Professor Mark Priestley and a research team.

The £270,000 study will conduct the first in-depth evaluation of subject provision through Scotland’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ (CfE). It will look at the ways in which the curriculum is structured in schools, explore how curricular decisions are made in different schools, and analyse the impact of curriculum provision on educational opportunities for young people from different socio-economic backgrounds.


CfE was implemented in 2010 to provide a broad competence-based education suited to the demands of the 21st Century. It has been widely regarded as the most significant educational development in a generation, with the potential to transform learning and teaching in Scottish schools.

Recently, there has been emerging evidence that in some areas of Scotland and specific schools there has been a reduction in the number of subject choices offered to pupils. The new study will address suggestions that CfE limits learning opportunities for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Professor Mark Priestley said: “Currently, there is a lack of a robust evidence base for drawing conclusions about patterns of curriculum provision in Scotland’s secondary schools, and their effects on attainment and future opportunities. This research will address that and help develop new understanding about how contemporary curriculum policy impacts the lives of young people across Scotland.”


Cheryl Lloyd, Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “Emerging evidence suggests that, contrary to policy intentions, subject choices in Scotland are narrowing. We hope this research will provide a clearer understanding of how the curriculum is shaping provision, and young people’s pathways, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds to inform policy and practice in Scotland and beyond.

"This is particularly important as we know the subjects offered and studied at different ages can have a long-term influence on young people’s education and career options.”

The two-year study is scheduled to report in Autumn 2021.

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