Scotland’s education secretary has admitted that “pointless tasks” that are carried out due to “a culture of fear” are responsible for generating the excessive workload that teachers say is making their working lives untenable.
John Swinney said that schools and teachers were constantly making preparations just in case the inspectorate came along, or just in case the education authority paid a visit, and even just in case he himself decided to “darken the door of the school”. All the work that generated was “the product of fear in the education system”, he said today as he addressed the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) annual congress in Crieff.
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Mr Swinney had also heard stories, he said, of schools that had spent years “waiting for the box to arrive” – an event that has traditionally been the precursor to an Education Scotland inspection.
He said, though, that the box never arrived and that Education Scotland was not interested in a “beautifully choreographed cupboard of coloured folders”.
Teacher workload pressures
Mr Swinney concluded that the key to reducing workload was “empowered teachers able to make the judgements through professional confidence about what contributes to the educational benefit of young people and what does not”.
He said: “A profession that is not trusted will do lots of pointless tasks which are of no value whatsoever. If the profession is a trusted profession and confident about its professional practice, and we invest in professional practice, there is less recourse to, and reliance on, the collection of pointless information.”
In response, SSTA president Kevin Campbell – a biology teacher in Fife – asked Mr Swinney if he was, therefore, within his rights to say “ahm no dae-ing that” if asked to complete “a task of no educational value”.
Mr Swinney responded that teachers needed to operate in “a collegiate culture” and he was not giving them “a blank cheque”.
“We need to operate in a collaborative culture, so it’s not a blank check to you to be a dissident – heaven forfend. But it is to say in a collaborative culture I think your headteachers should be working with you to recognise hard realities about what is valuable.
“It won’t work if it’s an adversarial: ‘You’re the headie and I’m the classroom teachers and I’m obstreperous and difficult about all these things’.
“It should be a genuine discussion among professionals as to, what’s the value of this? Is this actually enhancing the kids’ education? And if it’s not, let’s agree to park it.”