SEVERAL secondary schools in the Borders have taken the controversial decision to remove computer studies from their timetabled options and effectively close their departments.
The move has been described this week as “bizarre” by the parent of a fourth-year Selkirk High pupil who is due to sit his Standard Grade in the subject on Wednesday.
Susan Rae is so astonished that her son is being denied the chance to study for his Higher qualification that she has written to Scottish education minister Fiona Hislop asking her to investigate and lobby Scottish Borders Council in a bid to have the decision reversed.
According to Ms Rae, her son was told last Tuesday that the computer studies department at his school was closing because the head of department had been made redundant.
The upshot is that pupils currently doing computer studies in third year at Selkirk will be allowed to complete their course in fourth year, but thereafter only basic computing will be offered in first and second years with no opportunities for further study or qualifications.
“My own son, like many other pupils, is about to sit his fourth- year exams,” said Ms Rae. “Indeed, it is a terrible time for this news to be broken to these students, causing them increased anxiety about their future at a time when their priority should be the imminent and crucial exams.
“It also beggars belief that there was no consultation with either pupils or parents over this new and novel approach to education in the 21st century.”
In her letter to Mrs Hyslop, Ms Rae states: “While I understand that in these times sacrifices require to be made, it should not be at the expense of the children of the Borders, either currently attending secondary school or future pupils who will require qualifications to compete for the limited job options available and, indeed, places at university.”
Asked if the Selkirk High scenario was region-wide, a spokesperson for SBC’s education department, told TheSouthern: “There is no plan to phase out computer studies. Some individual schools have made the decision to remove the subject from their timetabled options, but this is a result of a range of factors, such as the reduction in uptake in the subject over a number of years and the fact that universities no longer require a qualification in computer studies in order to study ICT.
“Any parent concerned about lack of access to computer studies should contact the headteacher of their child’s school in the first instance to discuss alternatives.”
Councillor Catriona Bhatia, SBC’s executive member for education, admitted it was “unfortunate” for the pupils concerned, but she was unable to say how many were affected or which of the region’s nine schools had taken a similar decision.
“This is something of a moveable feast as each individual school is preparing its timetables for next session. It is an issue for the schools themselves, not the council, to make such decisions based on demand for certain subjects and headteachers should be able to advise on alternative ways of pursuing computer studies, including online learning.”
TheSouthern understands that the computer studies departments at Peebles High and Jedburgh Grammar will also cease to exist in the new session.
There is no mention in the council statement of the Transforming Children’s Services (TCS) programme which explicitly requires a rationalisation of senior teaching posts in a bid to cut overall education costs by the start of next session.
Mrs Bhatia said TCS was not a factor in computer studies departments being closed, an assertion queried by the Selkirk pupil’s father, who does not wish to be named to protect the identity of his son.
“When I sought clarification from the school, I was told nothing about a fall off in pupils doing computer studies, just that the head of department was being made redundant and his job could not be replaced because of a falling school roll and thus the department was closing,” said the dad.
“I got the impression that if the head of geography was leaving, that department would also close.
“I mentioned online learning as an alternative for my son, but this was not available.
“When my son, who is passionate about computer studies and feels that is where his career future lies, heard the news he was crestfallen and he didn’t know why he had bothered studying for his exams next week.”
Mrs Bhatia said yesterday, she would be happy to discuss options with parents in a similar position.