Research Report

Transition to senior phase: S4 students’ voices about curriculum and curricular work in schools



Torres AC & Priestley M (2018) Transition to senior phase: S4 students’ voices about curriculum and curricular work in schools. Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. Stirling: University of Stirling.

Students’ transitions throughout schooling have been broadly discussed within several research fields and theoretical orientations, as well as being the focus of political interest in several countries. The transition to upper secondary education frequently enfolds a series of important choices, decisions and expectations towards further academic and professional paths that more or less impact on the students’ integration and success through this schooling stage. Furthermore, upper secondary education curriculum is often oriented more as a preparation for future options than as a final stage of school education. In Scotland, this has been complicated due to substantial changes experienced in schools with the development of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which presently emphasizes senior phase pathways and support for the new national qualifications (Education Scotland, 2016a). While its explicit visions of student-centred teaching and of teachers as autonomous agents of curriculum enactment have caused much excitement and created high expectations, its development has been hindered by the constraints of vagueness and lack of clarity in the policy documents, misunderstandings of the curriculum purposes and principles and tensions with established teaching practices and beliefs about education (Priestley & Minty, 2013). Concerning senior phase, problems of excessive assessment-related workload and inappropriate use of the flexibility in curriculum design and development have already been recognized (Education Scotland, 2016b). Moreover, even though the student is at the heart of this ambitious curriculum reform, the students’ voices about curriculum and school in senior phase have not yet been sufficiently heard. The research reported in this briefing addresses the issue of transition, by exploring S4 students’ views about course choices, experienced difficulties and first impressions of the curriculum in upper secondary education, after the transition to this schooling stage (approximately age 16). The research aimed to: 1. Identify strengths and difficulties of integration that students experience when entering senior phase in Scotland. 2. Compare the experience of students in different courses, curricular structures and school organizations. 3. Characterize the perceptions of students about the experienced curriculum and its assessment in the transition stage to the senior phase. 4. Analyse the relationships between the students’ school and course choices and expectations and the difficulties they experience in the transition stage as well as with their perceptions of the experienced curriculum in senior phase. Furthermore, this study also aims to establish comparative analysis of two educational systems (Portugal and Scotland), linking the voices of students in their transition experiences with curriculum policies and actions carried out in both countries, at the national, local and school level. This study is a part of the post-doctoral project of Ana Cristina Torres, ongoing in the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences of the University of Porto (Portugal) and the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Stirling (Scotland), with a fellowship from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT/SFRH/BPD/108950/2015). The study is being supervised by Professor Helena C. Araújo (Portugal), Ana Mouraz, Ph.D (Portugal) and Professor Mark Priestley (Scotland). The briefing starts by introducing the study and the participants. It then goes to an executive summary of the findings from all the participant schools, which can be used for monitoring or institutional self-evaluation purposes.

Publication date24/07/2018
Publisher URL
Place of publicationStirling

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Professor Mark Priestley

Professor Mark Priestley

Professor, Education