Scotland

Issues over teacher workload to be discussed at meeting

Teacher in classroom
Image caption Teachers' unions have raised concerns about issues including ongoing assessments

Ongoing issues about the workload linked to the new school qualifications in Scotland are expected to be discussed later.

All three teaching unions are now taking some form of industrial action over their concerns about the new courses.

Problems highlighted include the level of bureaucracy and increased workload.

These are likely to be among the topics raised at a regular meeting involving unions, education chiefs and others.

The group brings together a full range of stakeholders including the Scottish government, the exams body the SQA, senior figures in education such as directors of education from local authorities, all three unions and the council umbrella body Cosla.

But finding a solution which fully addresses the concerns of unions and leads to an end to industrial action will be a challenge.

System shake-up

School qualifications have been through a three-year shake-up.

Standard Grades and Intermediates were scrapped, National 4 and 5 qualifications were introduced and Highers and Advanced Highers were revamped.

Although the shake-up is now complete - and this year's S4 students will be the fourth set of pupils to study for N4s and N5s - some teachers and unions have serious practical worries.

Their concerns are about how the new courses are working out in practice - not the qualifications themselves or the underlying aims of the changes.

One issue concerns ongoing assessments - unit assessments - in the National 5 and Higher courses.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Scottish qualifications have been under going a three-year shake-up

Members of the largest union - the EIS - are now taking part in a partial work-to-rule over their concerns. Teachers are not taking part in work linked to developing the new qualifications unless they are contractually obliged to.

However the work-to-rule should have no direct impact on learners and the union stresses it does not cover other additional activities teachers do such as sports clubs and school trips.

The EIS has argued that there is unnecessary duplication between the assessments and the exams.

The union said it wanted to see an acceptable timetable for a significant reduction in unit assessments and the workload associated with them.

There are also worries linked to the National 4s. In some schools and council areas, N5 candidates routinely have to complete a special unit so they still receive a N4 award if they fail their course.

Some argue this is a waste of time for both the candidates and teachers unless the teacher believes there is a genuine chance of the individual candidate failing.

Gather evidence

The SSTA is likely to hold a ballot soon on taking similar action - an unofficial ballot recently suggested overwhelming support.

The NASUWT has also been taking action.

The qualifications agency the SQA said it had spoken extensively to a wide range of people in education including teachers, candidates and managers to gather evidence about how the new qualifications were going.

This had informed discussion at the Ministerial Group on Assessment and new National Qualifications.

A spokesman said this had identified that there were several factors which contributed to the workload for both teachers and students which could have had a direct impact on both the delivery of courses and assessment.

One included how well prepared candidates were to start studying for them by the end of third year - work towards the qualifications starts in S4.

Others include the importance of schools and colleges allowing sufficient time for teaching, learning and assessment of the courses and ensuring candidates were studying for the appropriate level of qualification - there is evidence some had not been.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Education Secretary John Swinney has asked Scotland's teaching unions to suggest ways to reduce workloads

The SQA said it had already introduced some measures - but other measures were the responsibility of others, for instance schools or councils.

A spokesman added: "We are confident that the measures SQA has put in place will alleviate workload concerns arising from assessment, re-assessment and the recording of evidence while, at the same time, maintaining the standards and credibility of our qualifications."

SSTA general secretary Seamus Searson said changes to qualifications that had been suggested by the SQA would not reduce teacher workload.

He added: "Most of our members' concerns relate to the administration and bureaucracy generated by SQA rather than respecting teacher judgements and normal assessment procedures.

"The inspectorate are looking at local authorities to see what instructions are being given to schools to reduce workload but that will not necessarily reduce the SQA workload issues.

"The inspectorate will probably find examples of good advice but the difficulty will be see if it is being implemented in schools. SSTA members have said that the local authorities and the Inspectorate often add further work rather than reduce any."

'Issue of contention'

The organisation that represents most councils, Cosla, argued many of the things teachers were concerned about were the responsibility of the SQA.

A Cosla spokesman said: "We are concerned about teacher's workload and that is why we are attending the meeting and we have signed up to actions to address bureaucracy and workload as part of the 2015/17 pay deal.

"The main issue of contention from the teacher unions relates to workload associated with assessment required by SQA. Councils are not directly responsible, however that aside Cosla is working with the SQA and Scottish government in a bid to find a solution for all."

In his first speech as education secretary in May, John Swinney said he would ensure actions identified by a report by the Assessment and National Qualifications Working Group to reduce teacher workload would be delivered.

These actions would include removing unnecessary duplication in assessment tasks; expanding the support available for teachers at subject-specific level and reviewing the Quality Assurance approach for national qualifications.

Mr Swinney also said the chief inspector of education in Scotland would write to schools immediately with clear guidance on national expectations on qualifications and assessment that will further reduce unnecessary workload on teachers.

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