Studentship opportunity

Narrowing the Secondary School Curriculum: impact on subject choices, qualifications and attainment of young people in Scotland.

This studentship is funded by the ESRC through the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Sciences

University of Stirling
Mode of study

Full time / Part time

Application deadline
1 April 2019

Project details

Recent studies show that, under the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the Scottish secondary curriculum is becoming narrower (Shapira & Priestley, 2018a). Moreover, the phenomenon of curriculum narrowing differently affects subject choice and range and level of obtained qualifications across different schools. Young people attending schools with less advantageous social composition and schools in neighbourhoods with higher concentrations of deprivation are less likely to enter 7 or 8 subjects for their National 5 qualifications and to select facilitating subjects, such as Sciences and Modern Languages (Shapira & Priestley, 2018b). This evidence suggests that the curricular narrowing and the resultant reduction of subject choice under CfE disproportionally affects young people from low socio-economic backgrounds (ibid) and might adversely affect their socio-economic opportunities (Iannelli 2013). Yet the phenomenon of secondary Curriculum narrowing is under-researched.

The proposed PHD study will address the existing evidence gap, examining the ways in which secondary curriculum narrowing under CfE manifests itself and shapes curriculum choices, and the range and levels of national qualifications achieved by young people in different stages of secondary education, from a variety of family backgrounds, attending schools of different characteristics. In order to evaluate whether the introduction of CfE affected educational choices and outcomes, the study will examine cohorts of young people going through secondary education before (prior to 2011) and after the secondary phase of CfE was introduced.

The recent availability of the SQA examination data and Scottish Schools Census linked to the Scottish Longitudinal Study (SLS) makes it possible to address the aims of the study. The data will provide the PHD researcher with a unique source of information on the curriculum choices, attainment and transitions of young people that can be examined in relation to their individual, family and school context, during the period 2009-2018.

About the institution

The studentship will be located within the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling. The Faculty is a world-leading research environment; in the 2014 REF, 100% of the submissions from the former Schools of Education and Applied Social Science were judged to be 3* and 4* in environment quality. Moreover, Education had the highest quality research outputs of any Scottish University, with 100% of research impact activity rated either world-leading or internationally excellent. The successful applicant will be provided with facilities, including their own desk in an office, and full access to all software, equipment and laboratories. S/he will participate in the faculty’s internal research groups on ‘Social Surveys and Social Statistics’ and ‘Education Practice/Theory’, and will join a thriving group of researchers in the Stirling Network for Curriculum Studies. This network has strong international connections, including cutting edge work around curriculum making undertaken with colleagues from Canada, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Cyprus, and includes other doctoral students engaging with questions around teacher agency and curriculum making. The Faculty’s research groups run regular seminars, research discussions and training events, and will provide opportunities for the student to meet and benefit from advice from a wide range of staff and other research students with relevant expertise. The Faculty also has a long history of co-funded studentships (e.g. CASE awards, collaborative studentships, impact studentships), and of working with non-academic audiences (e.g. through internships and knowledge exchange activities).


Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria
  • A degree level qualification, First or Upper Second Class Honours (2:1), in a relevant subject, is required for entry to the 1+3 PhD programme. A Master’s level degree, normally including 60 credits of core research skills training (or equivalent), is required for direct entry to the +3 PhD programme.
  • An interest in analyzing quantitative data through large-scale secondary surveys
  • Some experience in the analysis of social statistics
  • An interest in the research areas and methodologies involved in the project. A background in education would be advantageous, but is not essential.

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme depending on prior research training.  This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process.  The programme will commence in September  2019  It includes
  • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2019/20 rate £15,009 full-time)
  • fees at the standard Home rate
  • students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Other information

The supervisors of the project are Dr Marina Shapira and Prof Mark Priestley. The studentship is administered by the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (, on behalf of its funder, the ESRC. Subject specific training will be available to the student on a one-to-one basis with the supervisors and with other academics within the Faculty, and through their participation in internal and external subject-specific training events. These will include:
  • Training in handling and processing secondary datasets
  • Training in advanced methods of statistical data analysis
  • Software training to advanced practitioner level in relevant packages (e.g. Stata, R, UCINET)
  • Training in undertaking social network analyses (including primary data collection of egonets)
External training events offer a particularly promising route to training development in this respect, since there are numerous high quality training programmes available across the University sector to which the student would be encourage to engage. The student will directly benefit from courses that will be offered within the Applied Quantitative Methods Network (AQMeN), the Social Network Analysis in Scotland group, the Glasgow Quantitative Methods Group and other providers such as NCRM. Generic training will be available primarily through the Stirling Graduate School and/or the Scottish Graduate School and will include:
  • presentation and critical engagement skills through postgraduate, research group and seminar series events;
  • writing for publication (through peer mentoring, specialist courses and writers retreats);
  • working with non-academic audiences through the Keyword seminar series;
  • general research training on themes such as project management, writing, and research ethics provided by the Stirling Graduate Research School.
In the latter stages of their project, the student will be encouraged to disseminate their research at national and international meetings and to submit publications to peer review journals. Students following the 1+3 programme will undertake one of the Faculty’s MSc in Applied Social Research degrees, before commencing the PhD. This provides high-quality and comprehensive training in core research methodologies. Further details may be found at  

How to apply

  1. Applicants register on GradHub and fill out EO data (this is a requirement of the application process)
  2. Applicants complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
  • Application form
  • Academic transcripts
  • References (at least one referee should be an academic)
  • CV

A two-page covering letter:   The covering letter should demonstrate interest and capability of undertaking a PhD- this should be uploaded in a standalone document with a naming convention as follows


  • Applicant statement: a short summary (maximum 500 words) explaining how they would approach the project’s research. The summary should refer to the project proposal, could discuss conceptual, theoretical and methodological issues link to the project and will be used to assess the applicant’s knowledge of the research field.

– this should be uploaded in a standalone document with a naming convention as follows


Applicants submit application through GradHub (button below)

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by 8 April 2019. Interviews will take place on during the week starting on 15 April. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within University of Stirling.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant MSC (if applicable) and PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

Marina Shapira