Teachers still can't see the work for the trees

26th September 2014 at 01:00
EIS says efforts to cut `Amazonian forests' of paperwork are failing

Government efforts have done little to reduce the "Amazonian forests" of paperwork that prevent teachers from doing their jobs and hinder the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), a survey by Scotland's largest teaching union suggests.

Pointless and burdensome bureaucracy continues to be a major issue in Scottish schools, the EIS poll finds, despite intervention by ministers to tackle the issue.

Among the schools surveyed so far, 54 per cent said that recommendations in a recent Scottish government report on reducing bureaucracy were not having the desired impact on the ground as they were not being implemented in "working time agreements" for teachers.

The document (bit.lyWorkingGroupReport) advises schools that ICT planning and reporting systems should be used with caution and that assessment should be based on evidence "drawn mainly from day-to-day teaching and learning" instead of paperwork. It also calls for schools to move away from "tick-box" approaches to monitoring pupils' progress.

The report was released by a working group on tackling bureaucracy - chaired by learning minister Alasdair Allan - last November. But EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said that despite the fact that CfE was intended to liberate teachers from pointless bureaucratic tasks, they were still faced with daunting and unnecessary burdens.

"There is a gap between the rhetoric and the response in the delivering of this report in schools," Mr Flanagan told an event in Edinburgh last weekend. "An Amazonian forest worth of paperwork associated with reporting, planning, recording and assessing is being created. There is excessive weekly and termly planning, writing of reports and evaluation of lessons, while less time is available for the actual preparation of lessons."

The survey received 300 responses from schools within days of being sent out on 12 September, and many more replies were expected. Some 20 per cent of schools said that the report had not been distributed to every teacher and 50 per cent had not held a staff meeting about it, although these figures may change as more results come in.

Schools also complained that cumbersome ICT systems for writing reports were often adding to, rather than alleviating, teachers' workloads. "Reports should be designed for the purposes of teachers, not the other way around," Mr Flanagan said.

One teacher at the Glasgow conference complained that red tape was "interfering" with the aims of CfE. "If we do not address these issues, we will never improve the reality in our classrooms," they added.

A second teacher bemoaned "an iceberg of assessment - much of it is below the surface and unseen". Another agreed, saying: "We can't lose sight of the aims of CfE behind bits of paper."

The union also noted concerns that teachers were providing excessive documentation for inspections, despite inspectors insisting they did not need high levels of paperwork.

Earlier this year, the EIS published the results of an online survey of 6,000 teachers, which found that excessive workloads were damaging their health (bit.lyWorkloadSurvey).

"Workload issues are engulfing the profession," Mr Flanagan said. "The quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers."

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, which was represented in the government working group, added: "There is a lot of bureaucracy in schools that is pointless and burdensome. This has to be challenged. What is not essential has to be ditched, but time has to be made for what is necessary."

John Stodter, general secretary of education directors body ADES, which was also in the group, said that a certain level of sophistication was required in marking. He added that "a proper account of pupils' progress has to come from the teacher, but this has to be evidenced".

Dr Allan has sent a letter to every education authority asking how it has implemented the recommendations for tackling bureaucracy. The working group will report later this year.

At the conference, Mr Flanagan underlined that much responsibility for easing teachers' workload lay with local authorities.

A Scottish government spokesman said it took support for teachers "very seriously" and was working with their representatives and local authorities to address issues such as workload. This included "an unprecedented package of support" and establishing the working group on tackling bureaucracy. The group would reconvene in the next few weeks to assess progress since last year's report, he added.

Earlier this month, an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report found that teachers in Scotland spent more time in the classroom than those in the majority of countries assessed, and that their pay was declining in comparison with teachers around the world (bit.lyOECDreport).

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