The bright side

4th July 2014 at 01:00

Workload, workload, workload. This would serve as a succinct summary of the overriding concerns of teachers and lecturers over this past year. It's difficult to remember a time when morale has been so dangerously low; the recent EIS survey of teacher well-being and job satisfaction provides strong evidence of this mood.

I have had it put to me that if a private company had been presented with the same results in its own workforce survey, alarm bells would be sounding. I hope policymakers and education directors give equally urgent consideration to the findings in relation to their duty of care to teachers.

In the survey, holiday entitlement featured highly as a positive, but rarely will the summer break have been as eagerly anticipated as it is this year. Interestingly, although secondary schools have recorded the greatest concern around workload (linked to the introduction of the new qualifications), all sectors, from nursery through to higher education, cite concerns about excessive workload and the consequent work-life imbalance.

Last month's Audit Scotland report on education laid bare the true level of cuts in education, along with staff reductions. The report challenges the oft-floated notion that education has somehow been "protected" - a popular conceit among some councillors with an eye on future budget decisions. Sideline gurus (many of them happily retired) might chant about the need to "do more with less", but all the evidence proves that it just doesn't work. The necessary approach is to simply do what's important in terms of teaching and learning and leave aside the rest; spend that most precious resource, time, on what makes a difference to students.

For example, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's recently published report on the Teaching and Learning International Survey (in which Scotland did not take part, although its conclusions still have relevance to our system) reveals that the overwhelming majority of teachers around the world do not believe that the accountability systems they operate under have any real impact on their efficacy as educators. Can they all be wrong?

As teachers know, the key to successful learning lies in positive relationships, and the survey highlighted this as the most satisfying part of the job. At this time of year, these relationships are celebrated in events such as shows, sports days, prize-giving ceremonies and so on. I recently witnessed two S6 pupils in tears as they thanked their teachers at the end of their last-ever school performance - testimony to the fact that we do make a difference to the lives of young people.

It's often said that in Scottish education every silver lining has its cloud, and that's probably true, but let's hope that they stay at bay at least until September, so that we can all enjoy a well-deserved break.

Larry Flanagan is general secretary of the EIS teaching union

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