HIGHLAND children could be facing a skills and qualifications shortage as they approach adult life because of crucial subjects being removed from school timetables.
Subjects such as computing, administration and business, which have an increasing importance in this technology-dependent era, are being axed from curriculums across the north, mainly because of staff shortages.
Forty-three classes have been removed from schools from Grantown to Thurso in the past five years, including some at Dornoch, Golspie and Kinlochbervie secondary schools.
This is according to a report received by the NT through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, leading to fears this will put youngsters at a disadvantage when applying for jobs and university. Not every school replied.
IT-related subjects including computing, administration and business were removed from school timetables 11 times – all because of staffing issues.
Councillors are hitting out at the losses saying young people should be being encouraged to study subjects such as computing.
Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh councillor Derek MacLeod said concerned parents have been approaching him about the issue since before he was elected last year.
"I'm very surprised at how often computing has been removed in this day and age, that is the one parents often come to me about.
"When pupils leave school and are applying for university they will be competing with youngsters from much bigger schools who will have had their pick of whatever subjects they want. To take away these subjects is putting them at a disadvantage because they live in a rural area."
East Sutherland and Edderton councillor Jim McGillivray said: "There's no easy answer to this general situation as any solution would require time to negotiate with teachers' unions around contracts and working time agreements.
"Over time there could be a strategy towards contracting peripatetic teachers of shortage subjects over a number of adjacent secondary schools, especially now there is a standardised timetable structure in place.
"As regards computing as a secondary school subject, the situation has never been helped by the SQA mucking about with the Higher Grade syllabus and splitting the core subject into information systems and computing.
"The old pre-2000 SCE system was much better in many ways for teacher and pupil. With computing there have always been problems of the cost of maintaining up-to-date hardware, the licensing costs of software, and the never-ending wrangle over which of many computer languages should be taught, if indeed any.
"At the end of the day, perhaps one constructive long-term solution is to remove education from local authority oversight and push control and funding to local school management and a local board of governance, inclusive of working teachers, so that the money follows the local need rather than the remote diktat."
Fellow east Sutherland councillor Richard Gale said: "I am very disappointed to see that we are losing subjects in Highland schools and with the ongoing problems with teacher recruitment this further disadvantages the young people of the Highlands.
"In Scotland we have a seven-year developing the young workforce programme that aims to better prepare young people for the world of work, however if we narrow the delivery of subjects, our youngsters will be at a disadvantage on two fronts.
"Firstly their peers from other areas will have a head start with a wider choice of subjects and secondly their reduced access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects, which we know there is a great shortage of across industry, will hamper their educational development and restrict their opportunities in later life."
• Dornoch Academy revealed that Higher-level Religious and Moral Education (RME) had been removed since 2015/16 because there was no staffing availability and lack of numbers. Administration (and IT) at national level was removed from N4 and above in the same year, citing better use of staff available in other subjects requested by pupils. Environmental Science was dropped at national level 4/5 in 2015/16 but returned at N3/4 with additional support needs pupils last year. Geography was removed at Advanced Higher in 2015/16 because of staff availability and lack of numbers.
• In Golspie High School, Environmental Science was dropped at Higher-level four years ago due to staff cutbacks.
• At Kinlochbervie High School, Computing was removed in 2015 at all levels due to a lack of demand and the computing teacher who left was not replaced. They say there were no complaints but they have "used links with other schools to ensure that all other subjects can be offered."