Ministers and their advisers have been left in no doubt by the unions of an urgent need to slim the 5-14 programme to rescue primary teachers and a sinking curriculum. A procession of delegates warned that the new curriculum was overcrowded, prescriptive and impossible to deliver. It had failed to raise attainment and was causing undue stress to teachers.
The Educational Institute of Scotland is the third union to express serious concerns about the 5-14 programme. Primary heads and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have also backed the plea for changes.
Delegates unanimously supported a call for an immediate review of curriculum guidelines, a halt to further development until the review is completed and improved funding. They rejected a separate appeal not to co-operate with further progress on environmental studies.
May Ferries, the institute's immediate past president, said the message was crystal clear. "One of the main problems of 5-14 is the whole thing," she said. The current review of environmental studies was welcome, yet it did not go far enough and authorities were ignoring it.
Alana Ross, Glasgow, a senior EIS figure, said: "The reality is that teachers have climbed mountains to implement these guidelines. Some have worked far too hard and some have been leant on.
"One thing that strikes me is that many of our primary schools are turning into mini-secondary schools. Classes are timetabled rigidly, minute by minute, so much that the spontaneity and fun are being taken away from primary education."
Jeanette Deans, Falkirk, said: "We are working hours and hours on the 5-14 programme but the feeling in schools is that attainment is no greater." Teachers were "spinning plates trying to work the unworkable".
Isobel Aitken, Stirling, said the programme in primaries was "collapsing and taking teachers with it". Agnes Morgan, Stirling, said it was "sapping teachers' creativity".
Proposing the review, John McMillan, Dumfries and Galloway, said a "brake" on the overcrowded 5-14 programme was long overdue. "Certain key curriculum areas and key skills are squeezed and not covered adequately. The expectation on primary teachers to become specialists across the whole spectrum of the curriculum has become unreasonable," Mr McMillan said.
Teachers were frustrated at having too much to cover in too little time.
Glenise Borthwick, West Dunbartonshire, advocating the left-wing action call on environmental studies, said family pets were going "unloved or unwalked" because of the burdens. She told delegates not to believe anyone who told them environmental studies was up and running.
The action call subsequently tied on 146 votes and was rejected by the president's casting vote.