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'With all this pressure, it's time for teachers to let off some steam'

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It’s impossible not to notice the flood of digital pictures from proms and primary school tie ceremonies, not to mention the first selfies of teachers on beaches and mountain tops. This can mean only one thing: summer is here.

And with teachers and pupils in some parts of Scotland already on holiday, others breaking up this week and the college academic year coming to a close later this month, the sector will no doubt do all it can to leave the stresses of term time behind and try hard not to worry about the future.

And there’s plenty to try not to worry about. This week, TESS shows the huge variety of cuts being meted out to local authority education services, with services involving additional support needs and psychologists among those
in the firing line.

Meanwhile, teachers and school leaders have to continue to bed in Curriculum for Excellence and the new qualifications. Even more importantly, perhaps, they will be playing a part in supporting the government’s number one goal of closing the attainment gap.

Many in the college sector will also be keen to close their office doors behind them for a few weeks. Last week, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee heard evidence on how the structural changes of recent years have affected the sector.

These have had “a significant impact on staff, particularly at senior level”, the Scottish government’s Aileen McKechnie told the committee. And although she stressed that students had been largely protected from the negative effects, a survey by TESS last month shows a huge reduction in college enrolments – combined with a drop in the number of staff on college payrolls.

A report submitted to the Scottish Parliament by the auditor general last week, however, provides a timely reminder of why the reorganisation of colleges may have been justified. The document highlights “serious weaknesses in governance” at Coatbridge College – one of the institutions that merged to form New College Lanarkshire.

These weaknesses include a “failure to meet the standards expected of public bodies in the use of public money”. It transpires that severance packages for the principal, five members of the senior management team and a member of staff in the principal’s office in the run-up to the merger cost £849,842.

Regionalisation was meant to improve governance and accountability in the sector. Only time will tell if that can be achieved – and it will rightly be a focus of the 2015-16 academic year.

But there should be another focus for everyone working in the education sector, as John Kemp of the Scottish Funding Council reminded us when he gave evidence to Parliament’s audit committee: the most basic measure of how well colleges are serving learners is “the success rate for students”.

He’s not wrong, of course, and we should never forget it. But teachers should now be allowed to enjoy a brief break from the pressure. They deserve it.

Read more in the 3 July issue of TESS. You can read it on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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