Editorial - It's a new year, but it's the same old story

10th January 2014 at 00:00

This week, the EIS teaching union made it clear that the season of goodwill was over.

Lest the festive cheer went to the heads of Scotland's school leaders, on Monday the union kicked off 2014 and the new school term with a round-up of teachers' concerns about the new National qualifications. The year was different but the message was the same: teachers are buckling under the load.

The EIS survey (see pages 9-10) raises concerns over poor-quality materials provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), frequent revisions to guideline documents and the "cumbersome" assessment process. As one languages teacher said: "I have never felt under so much pressure in my teaching profession than of late.

"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 attitude at the top seems to be that, although things are tough, it will all work out in the end. Or that "change always brings challenge", as Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, said in her response to the EIS findings.

This point - that change is difficult - was also made by Graham Donaldson, who was heavily involved in the implementation of the Standard grade, in a TESS article last year. "Almost every major change, if it is worthwhile, has produced that initial period of uncertainty and difficulty," he said.

Education secretary Michael Russell has pointed to the rocky introduction of the Standard grade and its later success in a bid to offer reassurance that, ultimately, all will be well with Curriculum for Excellence and the new qualifications.

Meanwhile, in this week's TESS, John Fyffe, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, acknowledges the significant workload pressure that teachers are under. But like Ms Brown and Mr Russell, he believes they will deliver regardless (see pages 14-15).

Undoubtedly his faith in the profession is meant as a compliment, but what use is it to teachers to have their plight acknowledged when nothing is done to lessen their pain?

It calls to mind the scene in the film Shakespeare in Love in which theatre owner Philip Henslowe describes the natural condition of his business as "one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster". When asked what should be done, he replies: "Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well."

As one teacher put it in their response to the EIS survey: "The basic message is, stop moaning and get on with it."

Of course, once teachers get over the hurdle of introducing the new National qualifications, the next challenge will be to take the same cohort of students through the new Highers.


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