Senior phase: headteacher survey

A report on the findings from an online survey of secondary school headteachers exploring their perspectives of implementing Senior Phase of Curriculum for Excellence.

Executive Summary

This report sets out the findings from a survey completed by headteachers of secondary schools in Scotland in June 2019. Rocket Science were commissioned to carry out the design, analysis and reporting of this survey.

The purpose of the survey was to gather information and insights on the provision of Senior Phase curriculum across Scotland, and the factors that are driving curriculum design in Scottish secondary schools. 45% of all headteachers (159 out of 357 Secondary Schools in Scotland) responded to the survey. These findings provide a starting point for follow up research exploring experiences of Senior Phase across Scotland.

Experiences of leading the design and implementation of Senior Phase

The survey responses suggest that headteachers have positive perspectives in relation to their ability to lead the design and implementation of Senior Phase. Most of the headteachers (85%) report that they are achieving an integrated, progressive and coherent experience for young people in the Senior Phase. In addition, the majority of headteachers (77%) 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. Finally, a majority (88%) also felt they had sufficient autonomy to determine the pathways that their school offers in the Senior Phase.

Factors that emerged as important in helping headteachers develop a Senior Phase that meets the needs of all young people, included:

  • The support and insights of staff
  • The commitment of partners with whom they have established relationships to help develop/deliver the Senior Phase
  • The insights and expectations of young people.

Headteachers nevertheless face some challenges in designing and implementing Senior Phase. Timetabling pressures was identified by 74% of headteachers as a constraint. In addition, resource constraints, availability of subject teachers, finding appropriate partners and availability of teaching staff were all identified as constraints by around half of respondents.

In relation to training, 61% reported that the training/professional learning they receive to enable them to design the Senior Phase has been helpful. However, two-fifths of respondents disagreed that it was helpful.

Finally, a small number headteachers identified other kinds of support that would be helpful in designing and implementing Senior Phase, including: better and more affordable transport for young people to travel to work placements or placements/courses offered elsewhere, or distance learning as an alternative to better and more affordable transport.

Senior Phase Curricular Models

Headteachers were asked to indicate the awards/qualifications offered in their school at each stage of Senior Phase. This revealed that the most common qualifications offered are:

  • In S4, over 90% of schools reported offering: National 3, 4, 5 and Duke of Edinburgh Awards
  • In S5, over 90% of schools reported offering: National 4, 5, Highers, Foundation Apprenticeships and College provision
  • In S6, 90% or more schools reporting offering: National 5, Higher, Advanced Higher, Foundation Apprenticeships and College provision (at a College).

There is also considerable depth to the offer in a large proportion of schools across the three years of Senior Phase in Scotland. For example, at least half of the schools offered Duke of Edinburgh Awards, National Progression Awards, volunteering, Saltire Awards, SQA Awards, and College provision (at College) during every year of Senior Phase.

The number of courses at various levels that young people can select varies across S4, S5 and S6:

  • In S4, 41% of respondents indicated that young people can select six and a further 48% indicated that young people can select seven course choices.
  • In S5, almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) indicated that young people can select five course choices.
  • In S6, 63% of respondents offer five course choices whilst just under 20% indicated six.

Schools are able to accommodate requests for more or fewer course choices by offering flexibility, and 97% of headteachers said that they were flexible in their approach and offered individualised timetables where possible.

Transition from BGE to Senior Phase

Over half of headteachers start initial 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 BGE too early.

Overall, 90% of headteachers felt they were able to mostly, or completely, ensure continuity of learning between the BGE and the Senior Phase. The most frequently mentioned factors that helped to ensure continuity, included:

  • Subject choice discussions (accounting for 38% of responses)
  • Tracking of progress (31%)
  • Profiling (27%) and parental engagement (27%)

Timetabling pressures and availability of teaching staff were identified by over 70% of headteachers as factors that limit their ability to ensure continuity.

Learner Participation

Almost all headteachers (95%) indicated that young people can shape their Senior Phase through pastoral support discussions. Most headteachers also indicated that Careers Fairs (84%), and discussions between career advisers and young people (75%) provide opportunities for young people to shape their Senior Phase.

There is a wide range of guidance available to young people, both in terms of the type of guidance, and the stage it is offered. Pastoral care in schools, SDS staff and other career advisors, and Personal Social Education (PSE) are commonly provided to young people across all stages of secondary school. In general, headteachers report that there is more guidance offered to young people at the later stages of school.

Headteachers were also asked about the barriers to enabling learners to contribute to shaping their Senior Phase. From the list provided, capacity and resources were identified as barriers by over half of respondents.

The survey responses revealed that over 90% of headteachers provide support to parents/carers to help them understand subject/course choices in the form of: Individual discussions at parents' evenings with teaching staff; Provision of information about potential subject choices; and Individual discussions at parents' evenings with careers advisors.

Partnerships with organisations and employers

Headteachers see long-term partnerships as important for the delivery and development of the Senior Phase. Almost all respondents (95%) have established long-term partnerships with colleges, and 75% have established long term relationships with employers. These partnerships are mainly developed to ensure a wider experience for young people or to help them gain direct access to employment opportunities.

These partnerships tend to be more focused on opportunities for the young people, rather than on professional learning opportunities for staff.

Establishing and maintaining these partnerships is important for the Senior Phase and they are affected by a number of factors such as the cost of transport and timetabling pressures. Headteachers felt that additional time dedicated to building partnerships, and more staff resources for this task, would be helpful.

Headteachers identified the main factors underpinning successful collaboration as the willingness of both partners and recognition of the mutual benefits of the partnerships. Support from organisations such as the Local Authority and Skills Development Scotland are important in supporting these partnerships.

Measuring the impact of Senior Phase

Data from Insight (a benchmarking tool designed to help bring about improvements for learners in the Senior Phase) and the views of young people emerged as important sources of evidence that headteachers rely on to ensure their Senior Phase meets the needs of their young people.

Priorities for further developing Senior Phase

In terms of their priorities in further developing Senior Phase, the most common response was in relation to enhancing and widening the current offer. Less frequently mentioned priorities included: increasing and improving partnership working; reviewing and evaluating the current Senior Phase curriculum; and refining the current senior phase curriculum.

Further research

The survey provides a valuable foundation for further research through follow up interviews, which could involve headteachers, their partner organisations, pupils and parents. The suggested focus for further research is set out in the conclusions.



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