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.


This research helps us to understand the perspectives of headteachers in relation to Senior Phase and provides the foundation for further research into the experiences of this phase of CfE. This section provides a brief discussion of the key findings.

The survey findings suggest that headteachers hold many positive perspectives in relation to leading the design and implementation of Senior Phase. For example, there is evidence that they feel able to implement Senior Phase as intended – as an "integrated, progressive and coherent experience" for young people. The survey findings also suggest that headteachers not only feel confident that their school provides a sufficient variety of learning pathways for young people but that they also feel they have sufficient autonomy to determine the learning pathways on offer in their school. Most also feel they are able to ensure continuity of learning between BGE and Senior Phase.

Nevertheless, headteachers do face challenges in designing and implementing the Senior Phase in their school. For example, timetabling pressures was identified as a barrier in designing the Senior Phase and in ensuring continuity with BGE. There was also evidence that availability of staff and resources could be constraints in designing and implementing Senior Phase more generally. Finally, whilst the majority of headteachers do feel they have had access to appropriate professional learning opportunities, the survey responses also suggest that this could be a useful area for further support.

The survey provides us with greater understanding about the models of Senior Phase curriculum currently in place across Scotland. There were common qualifications/awards being offered across the different stages of Senior Phase but also a considerable range on offer across schools. The survey also revealed that the number of course choices young people can select varies across the stages of Senior Phase. Headteachers largely feel able to respond flexibly and accommodate requests for more or fewer course choices where possible.

Finally, engagement with organisations/employers as well as young people and their parents seems essential to effective Senior Phase delivery. For example, many schools reported having long-term partnerships with colleges and employers. Responses also helped to highlight the variety of opportunities young people have to help shape the design of Senior Phase. Headteachers reported providing opportunities to support parents/carers understand course choices but there was also evidence there may be ongoing challenges of engaging parents.

The survey helps to highlight some of the issues that could be explored in follow up research, which could involve headteachers, their partner organisations, pupils and parents. Potential areas for further research that have been identified through this report includes insights from young people on their experience of Senior Phase, particularly around when and how they make their course choices, and their experience of the transition from Broad General Education.

Further analysis could examine the difference between the courses that are offered by schools and the take up of these courses by young people. Analysis could also assess the extent to which a school's characteristics influence the choices and experience of young people in the Senior Phase.

Further research could look in more detail at the provision of Senior Phase in schools, particularly on the extent to which it is planned as three individual years or as a managed progression. Research could also examine whether access to information and choices reflects a parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications.

This research has shown that headteachers have a positive view of their ability to implement a Senior Phase that meets the needs of young people in their schools. Further research could support headteachers in this role by identifying and learning from outstanding examples of practice, as well as identifying the most effective approaches for supporting and enabling school leaders in designing and implementing the Senior Phase.



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