Assessment - 'Degraded' teachers hit out at Nationals in union survey

10th January 2014 at 00:00
EIS members weigh in to debate, citing `preposterous' workloads

Over-testing and excessive bureaucracy are two problems that Curriculum for Excellence was supposed to eliminate. But a survey by the EIS teaching union suggests that implementation of new National 4 and 5 qualifications is actually adding to the burden on staff and students, with some teachers claiming that morale is at an "all-time low".

For the second week in a row - after TESS reported other teaching unions' concerns about Nationals - the Scottish Qualifications Authority is in the firing line.

"We are witnessing an unprecedented level of concern from our members in schools about SQA," EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said.

The union asked its 32 branches around the country to canvass views on the first year of National 4 and 5 - with exams looming in late spring - and uncovered particular concerns in English, maths, computing, physics, chemistry and biology.

"The new arrangements were supposed to reduce the assessment burden for both students and teachers, allowing more time for learning, but the opposite seems to be the case, with some students being on an assessment treadmill," Mr Flanagan said.

"This isn't the CfE that schools were promised. A particular issue for schools is that the workload demands on staff to deliver these qualifications are excessive."

One teacher's response to the survey encapsulated several common criticisms. "There are significant concerns with the lack of material from the SQA (exemplars, for example), late changes to courses and assessment advice, and the poor quality of some of the material. The biggest concern is about the time, particularly in relation to assessments, reassessments and local moderation or verification," it said.

There were complaints that SQA guidance changed frequently and that some members were unsure if they were using the correct version. "We have not been informed of changes but are expected to frequently visit the very unfriendly SQA website," one teacher said.

A modern languages teacher added: "Staff morale is at an all-time low due to lack of clarity from the SQA, workload is unmanageable, assessments are flawed, marking keys do not match questions and the fact that we have to spend all of our spare time trying to work out these issues is frankly unfair."

The teacher felt "degraded" because of the amount of work staff were being asked to do around Nationals, and said: "The 2013-14 cohort (of students) are being absolutely over-tested, something I believe CfE was meant to oppose."

Moderation and verification of National 4 and 5 was a "total minefield", according to a geography teacher, who said: "The burden of evidence collection for every pupil is both onerous and preposterous, and this is taking up an immoderate amount of time."

The same teacher, recalling that education secretary Michael Russell had insisted CfE would not create "burdensome paperwork", said that "unfortunately nobody has bothered to tell the SQA".

A statement from SQA chief executive Janet Brown responding to the EIS survey says: "The new Nationals are the latest step in the evolution of Scottish qualifications - and we understand that change always brings challenge."

It adds: "Our key priority in the coming months is to work in partnership with teachers to provide the additional support they need to ensure the Nationals are implemented to the benefit of all our young people.

"SQA listens very carefully to feedback from teachers and continues to provide a detailed programme of support, including course arrangements for the new Nationals, specimen question papers, coursework and assessment materials for all new subjects."

Almost 7,500 teachers had attended 140 subject events for the new Nationals, she said, and SQA's CfE liaison team was visiting every school in Scotland to gather feedback and "gauge what further support is needed to deliver the new qualifications".

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