‘Postcode lottery’ of Scotland’s Advanced Highers

Written by: Sam Phipps | Published:
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Schools in the most disadvantaged areas of Scotland are much less likely to offer pupils a broad range of Advanced Highers, which has deepened concerns over fair access to both qualifications and higher education.

Only two secondaries in the most deprived communities provide more than 12 Advanced Highers, compared with 27 schools in the wealthiest, according to figures compiled by the Scottish Conservatives.

Advanced Highers are considered increasingly vital for university access. Although more pupils from disadvantaged areas study them at university hubs, which are helping to offset the shortage at schools, the “postcode lottery” is unacceptable, said Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives.

“Advanced Higher has been the envy of many educationalists in England yet we know that, despite new initiatives such as university hubs, a diminishing number of schools are offering a wide choice,” Ms Smith said.

“Even worse is the stark postcode lottery which shows that pupils in disadvantaged areas come off worst.

“This has serious implications for the principle of widening access and ensuring that there is a level playing field for all pupils who aspire to do well in Advanced Higher and increase their chances of getting to university.”

The current debate on widening access to university has centred on admissions procedures. The government has told all universities that by 2030 at least 20 per cent of their intake must come from the most disadvantaged pupils, even if this means lowering entry requirements.

“Surely, the access debate should be focused on schools and ensuring all pupils have a fair chance to succeed,” Ms Smith said. “That is why denying many of them the chance to do Advanced Higher is a very serious matter.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said fair access to every aspect of education – including a school’s ability to offer specific exams – was an issue of “huge concern”.

He added: “No pupil should ever be debarred from accessing any area of the curriculum for reasons of cost.

“Sadly, in the era of government-enforced austerity in which Scottish education has been forced to exist for the past decade, secondary schools are increasingly having to make very difficult choices over which subjects they can offer. Staffing limitations often mean that Advanced Higher classes can’t be offered.”

Mr Flanagan praised the role of the Advanced Higher hub at Glasgow Caledonian University but said the issue of choice was not limited to urban areas.


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