A far-reaching survey has revealed a schism between primary teachers and their promoted colleagues over how to solve the staffing crisis in Scotland’s schools.
The poll – organised by the school leaders’ body AHDS and shared exclusively with TESS – gives a rare glimpse into the collective mood of the profession, laying bare the extreme pressure on schools through 2,511, often-detailed responses.
There is a common feeling of despondency resulting from the belief that teachers are “drowning” under workload and a “neverending stream of new initiatives”, and that schools have been hamstrung by the decline of the supply workforce (see page 8-9).
The survey – completed by 644 promoted teachers and 1,600 classroom teachers, and including 267 responses from other school staff – asked whether participants backed an AHDS idea that would change the contracted working conditions of all teachers.
The controversial proposal would involve teachers’ non-contact time being removed, and working hours increased by 2.5 hours a week, but with a corresponding pay rise.
Most promoted teachers were in favour of the proposal, with 66 per cent for and 22 per cent against. But only 17 per cent of class teachers backed the idea, with 65 per cent saying that they were against it.
Greg Dempster, AHDS general secretary, insisted that responses to a second question showed that the picture was less clear-cut. It asked whether individual teachers should be able to choose whether to give up non-contact time and increase their hours and pay.
Of the promoted staff questioned, 32 per cent were in favour and 60 per cent were against. Class teachers were split down the middle.
Mr Dempster said: “Given the continued teacher shortage, and the fact that, out of the 1,600 class-teacher responses, 50 per cent who expressed a view supported allowing teachers to choose whether to give up non-contact time, it appears to me that there is the possibility of agreeing a mechanism that would help alleviate current staffing problems to some extent. “The ideal next step would be if one or two local authorities offered to pilot the proposal for a year,” he added.
One survey respondent – a headteacher – said that the job of school leader had become “an almost impossible role”. Another promoted teacher believed that a change to non-contact time – covered by the school’s management team – “would make life better for us”.
Another senior teacher, who had taught for four days the previous week, agreed that the original AHDS proposal would help with staffing shortages in schools.
But another promoted teacher said that it was a “ludicrous” idea, because it “assumes that non-contact time is [a] skive and a luxury”.
Others observed that many teachers already work 60 hours a week, and argued that the proposal would “lead to a further mass exit of heavy-hearted and broken teachers”.
Class teachers were largely scathing of the “no-choice” proposal. It would simply transfer headteachers’ workload on to unpromoted teachers, said one, with another predicting that it would make a 35-hour working-time agreement “even more of a joke”.
One teacher, who works 53 hours a week, said: “It is not a pay issue, it is a health and wellbeing issue.” Another response appeared to sum up the mood among many class teachers: “Teaching is hard, hard work. It is utterly dispiriting to read that our conditions could be made even worse than they are already.”
A small number of class teachers talked up the idea, however, with one saying that the extra pay would be “fairer” and another suggesting it could be a temporary incentive until more teachers are recruited.
Mr Dempster said the survey showed that “teachers experience their workload very differently”. For some, working extra hours – even if paid – was “not just wrong-headed but impossible due to the hours already worked”, yet half of class teachers thought they should have the freedom to do so.
John Stodter, general secretary of education directors’ body ADES, said that the idea could be a hard sell given current workload concerns.
His organisation’s priority for addressing the staffing crisis is a “national minimum staffing standard”, which would take account of local circumstances and be fairer than the Scottish government’s blanket decree that teacher numbers be maintained.
The EIS teaching union has previously decried the AHDS’ “deeply worrying proposal”, which it said would lead to many class teachers losing their jobs.
How to solve the staff crisis: school leaders’ ideas
“Stop treating teachers like shite.”
“Teachers’ pay should reflect the amount of work that they do.”
“Look at closing rural schools where there are only a handful of pupils.”
“Offer permanent teaching contracts instead of temporary contracts.”
“The inclusion policy is a drain on resources and should be reviewed.”
“Access to teacher training in rural areas.”
“Limit the numbers of teachers in seconded roles in education authorities and at Education Scotland.”
“Raising the school starting age, similar to that of Scandinavian countries”
“[Recruit] from abroad with decent relocation packages.”
“Stop having so much paperwork for teachers. It’s a joke!”
“Paperwork has killed the job at all levels.”
“Start earlier, finish later and have Friday afternoons off.”
“A Teach First option where degree-qualified people will learn on the job”
“Get tough with persistently absent staff.”
“Stop politicians making decisions. Let the qualified make them, like in Finland.”
How to solve the staff crisis: class teachers’ ideas
“All non-class contact time taken by all staff at the same time.”
“I’m aware that research shows that a reduction in class size does not impact pupils’ attainment but it would reduce the workload for teachers.”
“Management days should be cut for the senior management teams.”
“Have more promoted roles in schools of 100-plus instead of only one headteacher.”
“Give more teachers permanent contracts so that new teachers don’t flee the country.”
“Teachers cannot be expected to ‘teach’ and raise attainment when they have an increasing amount of children in their class who have been wrongly placed in mainstream education or require excessive amounts of support.”
“Decrease the pupils’ working week to 22.5 hours.”
“A campaign to enlighten the public about what teachers do in reality. Too many people think that teachers get lots of holidays and only work 8:30am to 3:30pm”
“Increase the pay of teachers so that it’s in line with other degree-level professions.”
“Instead of offering free school meals to every pupil in P1-3, there should be a return to means testing…and more funding would be available for more teachers.”