'Secondary staff are fearful of the workload ahead'

Replacing exams with teacher judgements is 'unachievable' without more time to deliver moderation, argues this head

David Barnett

How the scrapping of SQA exams because of the coronavirus has increased teacher workload

In any normal year, the most precious commodity in school is time. Given the right amount of this commodity, so much can be achieved: time to work with individuals and groups, time to do the mundane tasks, time to plan and time for blue-sky thinking. Yet there is never enough of that precious commodity.

In this, the year of Covid, time has become even more precious. Planning learning and teaching in current circumstances is much more time-consuming than normal, as teachers find new ways of delivering the curriculum, whilst abiding by physical distancing guidelines.


Background: Scotland's 2021 exams cancelled by education secretary

Opinion: Could cancelling exams permanently reshape assessment?

News: Call for more in-service days after exams cancelled


Teachers are also trying to find the time to be able to set work for pupils who are self-isolating, as well as teaching the young people who are physically in the room. They are trying to find the time to support those young people who are displaying anxieties about the pandemic and the restrictions it places on daily life. They are trying to find the time for the increased supervision needed for two morning intervals and two lunchtimes. They are trying to find the time within lessons to ensure hand sanitising and surface cleaning.

Scrapping SQA exams adds to teacher workload

The stresses of working in a school environment at the moment are self-evident. On top of that, the cancellation of National 5 exams meant that much more time would need to be spent assessing and moderating in order to have sufficient quality evidence for SQA purposes. Yet teachers across the country have more than risen to the challenge, always with a desire to do the absolute best for the young people in our care.

Now, to add to that burden, we have been given the job of delivering assessment for Higher and Advanced Higher with, again, a clear need to have high-quality moderation of the assessment evidence that is generated.

Whilst there will be mixed views on the announcement, we can accept the fact that this was a difficult decision, taken with a view to providing equity for young people across the country. Some young people are pleased with the decision, others less so. Students will be experiencing a wide range of emotions, and will be receiving support from their schools as they get used to this news.

However, now that the decision has been made, the thoughts of teachers and school leaders have turned immediately to the question of how we can achieve what is expected of us. The deputy first minister and education secretary, John Swinney, advised that schools should be looking to use remaining in-service time for moderation work.

The reality is that schools were already allocating this time for moderation of National 5 assessment evidence. At the very least, we should be looking at the creation of additional in-service time to allow for this additional work for Higher and Advanced Higher; otherwise, the system will be in danger of grinding to a halt. Exhausted teachers undertaking this vital quality assurance work need quality time to make sure the work is done properly.

It is recognised that creating additional in-service time would mean some time out of school for young people at a time when we are trying to keep them in school as much as possible. However, with courses going on into May, perhaps there is some leeway there to provide dedicated time for staff to work with colleagues across different schools to ensure a high-quality moderation process?

An additional payment has been mentioned. Without knowing the detail, many teachers will welcome this. However, many have commented that whilst an extra payment will be welcome, it will be no substitute for that precious commodity of time.

School staff are fearful of the workload which lies ahead, not because they are afraid of hard work – they work hard all year round, year in, year out – but because, no matter how hard they work, what is currently being asked of schools is unachievable without additional time.

We desperately want to do the best for our young people – please give us some time to allow us to achieve this.

David Barnett is the headteacher of a Scottish secondary school and a past president of School Leaders Scotland

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories