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High stakes over CfE kick-off

Tensions rise as unions and Government prepare for teachers' conference season

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Tensions rise as unions and Government prepare for teachers' conference season

"The stakes are high", the Educational Institute of Scotland warned this week as tensions intensified between the Government and teaching unions over the new curriculum during the traditionally tetchy run-up to the teachers' conference season.

Delegates to the June annual conference of the EIS, the largest union, will be called on to support industrial action over Curriculum for Excellence, particularly to back delay in introducing the new qualifications.

Its general secretary, Ronnie Smith, said the result of the CfE management board's survey of teachers, published last week, had shown there were "very serious outstanding issues".

"The stakes are quite high for the period between now and our AGM in June in terms of the reassurances and promises that Michael Russell has made," Mr Smith said.

Leaders of the second largest union also warn of potential industrial action among secondary teachers next session if demands on CfE are not met in the coming weeks.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the Education Secretary's 10-point plan for CfE had not, as he had claimed, met their concerns over lack of guidance and detail.

She predicted that SSTA members would vote for industrial action, short of strikes, if Mr Russell did not accede to a series of demands she was tabling this week. Emergency motions on industrial action are expected to be debated at the union's annual congress next weekend.

The SSTA's executive council met on Friday, following the CfE management board's formal announcement that the curriculum reforms would not be delayed. Ms Ballinger has now written to the Education Secretary with her own "action plan", demanding:

  • a list of core skills that have to be taught for every subject area by the start of May;
  • working groups of experienced class teachers to develop core materials for each subject by the end of May;
  • time for subject departments during June to develop core topics and areas;
  • "clear and unequivocal information" about course choices;
  • information about when work on certificated courses will start;
  • experienced teachers to begin developing examples of assessment material not just for S3-4, but S1-2.
    • The CfE management board's survey of teachers, which had a response rate of just 24 per cent (14,932 out of 61,000 teachers), suggested teachers wanted more guidance on assessment, more time, better resources, more exemplification and more continuing professional development.

      But Larry Flanagan, education convener of the EIS, was the sole board member to vote for a delay in introducing the new qualifications, due to start in 2013-14. Surprisingly, in view of his union's hostility, SSTA president Peter Wright supported the current timetable on the basis of assurances given by Mr Russell.

      In his TESS column this week, Mr Flanagan said the survey results were "a collective appeal on the part of teachers for more time and support".

      Just over 60 per cent of all respondents said they were at least "fairly confident" that they would be able to support the development and assessment of literacy and numeracy skills, and that their school would be able to make progress in implementing CfE.

      But just over 70 per cent of secondary respondents said they were "not at all confident" they would have sufficient information or support either to deliver literacy and numeracy qualifications or teach a broad general education in S1-3.

      Between the date the survey was issued and publication of its findings, Mr Russell said he no longer planned to introduce separate literacy and numeracy qualifications, but would incorporate them as standalone units within English and maths qualifications.

      He believes his 10-point plan, designed to assuage teachers' apprehensions, had not quite sunk in while teachers were voting. He announced it on March 30.

      As part of his plan, Mr Russell invited teachers and schools to ask for help if they did not feel ready to implement CfE. This week, at a Scottish Teacher Education Committee conference in Glasgow, he attempted to answer sceptics who said few would be brave enough to admit they were unprepared, describing people who did not want help as "a little suspicious".

      "Classroom teachers are always encouraging people to seek help, so let teachers take that advice," he said.

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