Senior phase survey

Headteachers offering pupils flexibility and choice.

Almost all headteachers are offering senior pupils flexibility, such as individualised timetables, to study the topics they are interested in according to a new study.

A survey carried out in June asked secondary headteachers’ for their perspectives on implementing the ‘senior phase’ curriculum, between S4 and S6. Of those who responded:

  • 97% of headteachers accommodated requests for more or fewer course choices by offering flexibility
  • the majority of schools offer pupils six or seven courses in S4, five in S5 and five in S6, and have long-term partnerships with colleges and employers
  • over half of headteachers started planning for the senior phase when young people are in S2 and 90% felt they were able to ensure continuity of learning

The results will feed into an independent review of the senior phase.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“Young people now have the widest ever range of courses to gain skills and knowledge and last year a record proportion of pupils went on to positive destinations such as work, training or further study. This survey is welcome evidence that, through Curriculum for Excellence, headteachers are embracing that choice.

“Nearly all schools are giving young people the flexibility to choose the courses to suit them, by offering personalised timetables in schools or by collaborating with other schools, colleges or other partners to deliver learning. Almost nine out of ten headteachers say they have the autonomy to determine the senior phase in their school.

"This demonstrates that our focus on empowering schools is working and that schools are making decisions about how best to meet the needs and aspirations of their pupils.

“These results will feed into our independent review of the senior phase to help us better understand how the curriculum is being implemented in schools and identify any areas for improvement.”


The Senior Phase: Headteacher Survey asked headteachers for information on implementing Senior Phase curriculum. It was commissioned by the Scottish Government and undertaken by Rocket Science. The survey was open to all secondary school headteachers between 31 May and 28 June 2019. 159 secondary headteachers responded, a 45% response rate. The respondents were broadly representative of secondary schools in Scotland, including size of school, urban/rural location, and proportion of pupils from the most deprived areas.

Some of the other findings include:

  • The majority (85%) of headteachers feel they are achieving an “integrated, progressive and coherent experience for young people in the Senior Phase”
  • The majority (77%) of headteachers are very confident or confident that their school provides a sufficient variety of learning pathways to meet the needs of all their young people across the Senior Phase. A majority (88%) also felt they had sufficient autonomy to determine the pathways that their school offers in the Senior Phase
  • Schools offered a wide range of courses and qualifications, including college provision (93% of schools at S5), the Duke of Edinburgh Award (91% of schools at S4), Foundation Apprenticeships (94% at S5), and Saltire Awards (69% at S6) The majority of headteachers have established long-term partnerships with colleges (95%) as well as employers (75%) in order to develop their Senior Phase curriculum
  • Over half of headteachers started planning for the Senior Phase when young people are in S2. The rationale for starting to prepare for transition in S2 was that it gave young people (and staff) enough time to consider and refine their choices for the Senior Phase while not narrowing down the focus of the Broad General Education too early
  • Responses highlighted the variety of ways headteachers support parents/carers to help them understand course/subject choices


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