Say goodbye to `a bit of breathing space'

14th March 2014 at 00:00
Workload concerns increase with news of plans to cut study leave

study leave for school students is being scaled back by local authorities, leading teaching unions to predict dire knock-on effects for teachers' workload. Rather than studying at home in the weeks before exams, students would spend most of that time supervised on school premises.

The NASUWT Scotland union discovered the trend while carrying out a survey into the impact of Curriculum for Excellence, with Glasgow and West Lothian among the local authorities named as planning to cut study leave.

The EIS teaching union also said it was aware of concerns in Glasgow and that it was making enquiries across the country "to gauge the scale of the problem".

Study leave frees up preparation time for teachers, and with the imminent introduction of new National and Highers qualifications, it is viewed as more valuable than ever. But indications are that councils are moving towards a model in which leave would be granted only for the day before an exam.

"Stopping pupils from developing an independent approach to revision seems to be a curious approach and does not sit well with what we are aspiring to do for and with them as `confident individuals', `successful learners' and so on," said NASUWT Scotland president Mike Corbett.

"Also, the huge amount of development work which secondary teachers manage to do during study leave would be significantly curtailed, a strange thing to want to have happen at a time when we are in the midst of implementing new National qualifications," he said.

Mr Corbett accepted that National 4 courses, with no external exams, did not demand study leave, but said relatively few students would sit these exclusively. "There is no justification for scrapping or cutting study leave for National 5 pupils," he said.

He added that his own authority, East Dunbartonshire, had done better by agreeing that National 5 students would have study leave as normal while those in National 4 would attend school but not necessarily normal classes. Job application workshops or work experience might be on offer instead.

Hugh Donnelly, secretary of the EIS teaching union in Glasgow, said traditional study leave allowed that "little bit of breathing space". It gave teachers time to plan ahead, he said, particularly given the pressures that they had faced this year with the introduction of new qualifications.

Mr Donnelly acknowledged that study leave was not contractually guaranteed but said it was a tradition established over time. Glasgow was phasing it out, he added, with Nationals affected initially but study leave for Highers also ultimately due for elimination.

Mr Donnelly feared that schools would struggle to find space for students who would normally be on leave during exams. He also worried that young people would lose out when it came to developing self-reliance. "If children are studying to be independent students and adapting to universities, they need that individual study instead of being supervised by teachers to the very last minute," he said.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said his union had carried out a survey of all branch secretaries and found that most local authorities were reducing study leave. He added that the advent of the Nationals appeared to have accelerated an erosion that had been going on for some years.

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said that smaller classes could "double up" to allow teachers to prepare and plan. A spokesman from West Lothian Council said that study leave arrangements for S4 students in the authority had "been improved to make sure we meet the needs of all our pupils".

The NASUWT survey, shared exclusively with TESS, revealed broader concerns about excessive workload, with more than three-quarters of respondents putting the blame on national bodies such as the Scottish government and Education Scotland. Nearly 90 per cent of respondents said that CfE had increased their workloads to "a very great" or "great" extent.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: "What is most striking is that while CfE has created profound workload pressures, teachers and school leaders have continued to remain committed to the principles of CfE and its successful implementation." However, this should not be taken for granted, she added.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today