`Confusion and dismay' as admin costs rocket

21st March 2014 at 00:00
Burden of replicating materials for Nationals shifted on to schools

Secondary schools are struggling to cope with increased administrative tasks and soaring photocopying bills because the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) has passed on responsibility for reproducing materials for new National courses, teachers have warned.

The concerns are the latest manifestation of the "confusion and dismay" that has set in around the qualifications, even after recent events were held by the SQA to address teachers' qualms.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), said that in some schools spending on textbooks had been curtailed to cope with the rising costs of delivering the Nationals. There was also widespread misunderstanding about what materials schools were required to reproduce, he added.

These grievances are just the latest in a long list of complaints about the Nationals. Earlier this year TESS revealed teaching unions' growing worries that implementation was not going to plan. The vast majority of local authorities then took up the SQA's offer of last-ditch extra training.

Incoming SSTA general secretary Sheila Mechan has accused the SQA of being "dismissive, even cloth-eared" about teachers' concerns, while Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, has talked of the Nationals creating an "assessment tsunami". Labour shadow education secretary Kezia Dugdale last month expressed fears that a repeat of the 2000 exams debacle could be on the cards.

Now it is the SQA's lack of printed resources for teaching the Nationals that has come under fire. The EIS has reported that school departments are spending as much as half their budgets on photocopying and printing, with English and maths particularly badly hit.

"The SQA has effectively abandoned printed materials as a method of distribution, relying on its website," said EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan. "But schools often need hard copies to support teaching and learning, especially for pupil materials, and this means that the costs transfer from the SQA to schools."

Mr Flanagan said that the need for printed materials to support the teaching of Nationals was one of the issues most frequently raised by EIS members.

A typical subject department budget was around pound;3,000, Mr McKenzie explained, and in the past roughly a quarter would be spent on photocopying. However, some departments were now spending up to pound;1,600 on reproducing materials, he said, meaning that they had run out of money by January and were having to cut back on spending on S1 and S2 textbooks. This was "all down to the changes with National 4 and 5", he claimed.

Mike Corbett, president of the NASUWT Scotland teaching union, said principal teachers around the country were reporting that the Nationals had led to significantly more photocopying, mainly because of the number of internal assessments.

"At a time when there is already pressure on school budgets, it is simply unfair to expect schools and local authorities to bear this additional cost," he added.

Bryan Paterson, headteacher of Kilmarnock Academy in East Ayrshire, said the changes amounted to 13,000 extra sheets of photocopying over the course of a year at the 575-student school, and that many photocopied materials could only be used once.

"While I acknowledge that in this time of austerity we all have to tighten our belts and ensure that we use resources more efficiently, I find it unacceptable that SQA has transferred these costs to schools," he said. "I don't think anyone outwith schools, let alone the SQA, fully realises the administrative and financial burden being placed with regards to new examination arrangements."

As one of many examples, Mr Paterson highlighted a 13-page administration and IT National 5 paper, which his school will need to reproduce 25 times. "I think it is a scandal that these have not been provided to centres as has been the case in the past," he said.

Mr Paterson added that his "hugely positive" staff had become less optimistic about Curriculum for Excellence after recent national SQA events on assessment arrangements, which "created a sense of real confusion and dismay" around many issues.

Modern studies staff were convinced that they would have to reproduce special lined paper, for example. Ultimately the SQA clarified that this was not the case, but it was likely that many teachers around the country were still unaware that they could use their own paper, Mr Paterson said.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said new assessments inevitably led to extra work for schools. However, he added that the burden was "more significant in these very tight financial times", even with the government's recent injection of pound;5 million to help teachers deliver the Nationals.

A spokesman for the SQA said: "We encourage practitioners to use the SQA website to access the most up-to-date documents for the new National qualifications. Given the extent of the support materials SQA produces, the website is the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective way of disseminating this information [to] schools and colleges."

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