The decline in subject choice for pupils has led to a “catastrophic” drop in the number of exam passes over the last five years, a leading educationalist has warned.
Keir Bloomer, the architect of the Curriculum for Excellence, said the Scottish Government had been “sleepwalking” into a situation where many young people can only take six subjects at S4 rather than eight.
That means youngsters are leaving school less qualified than their predecessors, while those going on to Highers have their academic options limited, Mr Bloomer said.
The former council chief attributed most of the blame for the large fall in passes since 2013 on locally-imposed restrictions as to how many subjects pupils can pick when they reach S4.
Mr Bloomer also linked the reduction in choice to students taking fewer stem subjects, which he said were “crucially important for our economic success”.
“The drop in the number of passes is catastrophic over the last five years,” Mr Bloomer said.
“If you are just looking at the results that have come out compared with the previous year there is nothing hugely dramatic.
“But when you look at what is happening over the long term, there are some important reasons to be very concerned here.”
The number of passes at the National 5 level of qualifications has dropped by 19% since 2013, compared with a 42% reduction in the National 4 and equivalent exams over the same period, the Scottish Qualification Authority figures show.
Mr Bloomer added: “We are giving young people fewer opportunities.
“What is the crucial point here is that there is no government policy that says we want to reduce the number of subjects that people are doing in S4.
“This has not happened because anybody wanted it to happen, it happened entirely by accident. The Scottish Government has been sleepwalking into this.”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “Our focus is on a young person’s achievement at the end of their senior phase, not just within a single year and the long-term trend shows a greater proportion of young people staying on at school beyond S4.
“Young people are gaining a broader range of qualifications and the proportion of young people leaving school with qualifications has increased in recent years.
“The sciences remain popular subjects. Our Stem Education and Training Strategy includes a range of actions to improve learning at school, such as a bursary scheme of up to £20,000 for career changers to teach certain stem subjects, a network of specialist advisers to support teachers and the launching, later this year, of a Scottish Young Stem leaders programme to inspire young people.”