On balance, I think teaching in the Scottish state-education system is better than in the English one. It seems foolish now that I never considered there would be differences; it's just that my English-centric view had me assume that the two systems would be identical. Believe me, they are not.
I experienced quite a shock in my first department meeting in Scotland when colleagues wanted the start time noted so specifically. It was a further shock when some excused themselves before we had reached the end of the agenda. Where on earth were they going? We had items to discuss, tense debate to partake in. All that was left was a faint murmur of some “work-time agreement” floating on the air behind them as they breezed out the door. It seems there are rather strict rules in the document in question, and a 35-hour working week is the main principle of the 2001 McCrone agreement.
It made me wonder if these teachers were less professional, or less engaged in educational debate. That query was soon answered: absolutely not. I’ve never seen a group so engaged with readings around teaching, so fiercely passionate about contributing their views. If I’m honest, these fiery Scots intimidated me a little at first.
A less optimistic view: ‘Scottish education system needs a fundamental reboot’
News editor’s take: We can admire the ideals of CfE even if we rue the reality
More on Scottish education: Visit our Scotland news hub
Pottering out of school at the end of a tough day, edging towards 5pm, I discovered very few cars left in the car park. What utopia was this, where people left for the day, did their work at home and weren't judged...surely it couldn’t be? Yet it was and it is. Our colleagues in England definitely cannot work in a place of their own choosing if they are not required on site. In fact, I remember it being frowned upon, if not expressly forbidden, to go off site during lunchtime when I worked in England. Treating teachers with this more professional and trusting attitude seems the norm here.
Chatting to a few friends teaching in Newcastle recently, I asked about the availability of part-time leadership roles. They scoffed at my foolish question: “What roles?” None had ever seen a leadership position offered on a part-time basis in England; however, there are numerous such opportunities advertised in Scotland, and job-share requests are welcomed. It goes without saying that this makes the juggling of family and career much easier to navigate.
The examination system is streamlined in Scotland with only the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) publishing examinations. This has its pros and cons. It means that all students sit an exam which is equal in difficulty, but if you become frustrated with the system, feel the exam isn’t suited to your students or that the standard is not what you would like or expect, then you have nowhere else to turn.
Maybe time has altered my views, but it certainly seems that teachers have a much stronger voice here. I have taught in a diverse range of schools and with some wonderful leadership, yet I felt a sense of place in England, and not in a good way: I was not being asked for my opinion and it would be clear when it was my turn to contribute. When I shared this story with a member of the leadership team at my current school, he couldn’t help but laugh: the thought that I should keep my (potentially good) ideas to myself seemed so foolish to him.
My experience of teachers who have been trained here in Scotland is that they have a more holistic view of education. The system does not seem to lean quite so dramatically towards data and targets. At first, I found this wholly disconcerting – then liberating. It allows more time to focus on the areas you know will make a positive impact on student engagement and learning. The downside is that it can come across as foolishly idealistic at times, with little accountability for those teachers who are perhaps falling short of the mark. It also allows more room for dreadful ideas to be taken further than they would be in England.
Teaching in certain authorities – including Edinburgh and several around it – means a lunchtime finish for students, and often for teachers too, unless they have to attend CPD that week. This huge treat was a welcome surprise when I crossed the border and it remains the single factor that makes my friends down south the most envious.
The profession is still far from perfect here – but if you were to ask me where teachers have a better time of it, I’d say Scotland comes out on top.
Sam Tassiker is a secondary teacher in Scotland