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John Swinney: It would be

Holyrood magazine

John Swinney: It would be "daft" to force pupils into subjects they don't like

"Let’s have the curriculum driven by young people and what they’re interested in, rather than by what old duffers like me are interested in" the Cabinet Secretary for Education said

John Swinney has said that it would be “daft” to make senior high school pupils take subjects in which that have no interest.

The Cabinet Secretary for Education warned the “logic” of the recent Education and Skills Committee report into the narrowing of subject choices would risk “alienating” pupils. 

He said: “I fear that the logic of that (report) is that young people will be required to do subjects in which they have no interest. And if we agree to that, then we are daft.”

Swinney made the comments during a Holyrood fringe event at the SNP party conference. 

The Cabinet Secretary was speaking on the topic of social mobility and the role of the education system in helping people overcome disadvantage to achieve success in life. 

He said that he “completely accepts” that poverty is a “barrier” both to learning and to later success in the workplace and said that the Government has to “tackle it aggressively” to ensure school pupils achieve. 

But Swinney said that schools offering different types of classes which pupils may find more engaging is a solution to overcoming those barriers. 

Taking the example of the Farmer Jones Academy project that offers pupils in the north of Scotland training in agricultural business skills, Swinney said that offering non-traditional classes engages pupils who would otherwise struggle.

He said: “What that showed to me is that if you make learning relevant to young people then you’ll overcome all those barriers. It’ll just go away.”

Of the pupils taking part in the project, Swinney said: “They’re excited and engaged, these young people, who the deputy head teacher was telling me were likely to be disengaged by what one might call a ‘traditional curriculum’.”

He went on to say: “If we’re not careful, then we’ll alienate young people by doing things they don’t find interesting.

“So let’s have the curriculum driven by young people and what they’re interested in, rather than by what old duffers like me are interested in.

“That’s the crucial debate.”

The fringe event where Swinney made his comments was titled ‘Social Mobility: how business can bridge the class divide’.

Other panellists included MP for Dundee West, Chris Law as well as Pauline Hawkes-Bunyan of the Investment Association. 

Chaired by Holyrood managing editor Mandy Rhodes, discussion centred on widening access to careers in financial services to people from working class backgrounds. 

Hawkes-Bunyan spoke of the “taboo” of class in the context of diversity initiatives by employers. 

Speaking from her own experience as the first in her family to attend university, she said: “financial services just wasn’t promoted to me as a career option.''

Law said that his “unlikely” family background of being raised by a single mother who was a small business owner made him highly aware of a “class divide” in the industry.

One solution proposed by panellists included encouraging employers not to focus on school grades when going through the hiring process.

Swinney warned of “the dangers of a system only driven by grades” and said: “the more schools can nurture and support pupils in knowing what the workplace will require the better.”


16/10/2019: The article was amended to correct the name of the Education and Skills committee

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