Red-tape crackdown hasn’t cut workload, say teachers

12th February 2016 at 00:00
We’re caught in ‘perfect storm’ of new qualifications, budget cuts and supply-teacher shortage, SSTA claims

NEARLY nine out of 10 teachers believe a national drive to cut bureaucracy has achieved nothing, a teaching union survey shows.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association says that the profession has been hit by a “perfect storm” in which new qualifications, budget cuts and a supply-teaching crisis have left staff badly overburdened.

The push to reduce administration may be failing partly because of a “fear factor”, the union says, as teachers prefer to produce too much documentation rather than risk having too little.

The SSTA asked members how helpful the latest report by the national Working Group on Tackling Bureaucracy had been since its publication last March – and nearly nine out of 10 (89 per cent) said that it had been no help at all. Only 6 per cent thought that it had helped in some way.

“That’s what we’ve been hearing anecdotally – that it’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” said general secretary Seamus Searson.

Recommendations in the working group’s report included asking school inspectors to challenge unnecessary bureaucracy, setting up workshops to provide practical help and “streamlining” verification procedures for new qualifications (

Over-assessment is the biggest factor in rising bureaucracy, said Mr Searson, and systems devised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) often required teachers to provide the same information multiple times.

Many schools were also creating extra work by presenting pupils for a subject at both National 4 – which is assessed internally by teachers – and National 5. This provides an “insurance policy” should a candidate fail at the higher level.

There were many other causes of increased bureaucracy, he added, including cuts to administrative staff, poor IT systems and shortages of supply teachers.

Efforts within schools to reduce the burden have not always been well thought-out, said SSTA president Euan Duncan.

One school, he said, initially successfully cut paperwork by stripping out jargon from annual pupil reports and providing parents with essential information only. However, since then it has increased bureaucracy by sending out two of the new streamlined reports each year.

Stress ‘at an all-time high’

The consequence of mounting workload, said Mr Duncan, was stress levels recorded by local authorities rising to “an all-time high”. He recalled one teacher who left the profession for a management role in a restaurant: “The money was about the same and she wasn’t having to pay for childcare – plus, she said, ‘I’d be working every evening anyway, so why not work in a restaurant and have my days with my child?’”

The EIS union last month agreed in principle to hold an industrial action ballot should a new government “expert group” fail to reduce workload associated with new qualifications.

The union believes, however, that progress has been made in tackling other causes of bureaucracy – although it says schools’ and local authorities’ efforts have been “patchy”.

It has been running joint workshops with Education Scotland to help teachers reduce workload. EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “The feedback from these events so far is that some schools are really making headway with streamlining reporting and planning, and in minimising the number of extraneous tasks that increase workload.”

The most recent edition of “How Good is Our School?”, a self-evaluation document, had helped as well, he said, by encouraging staff to talk to each other rather than merely documenting everything.

Mr Flanagan cautioned, however, that some teachers were still complaining about “unwieldy systems”, particularly related to SQA assessment.

In 2013 the Scottish government established the Curriculum for Excellence Working Group on Tackling Bureaucracy. Its first report was published in November 2013 ( Review), with the more recent follow-up appearing last March.

A spokesman said that the government had worked closely with Education Scotland and SQA to provide “an unprecedented level of support” to help teachers and schools prepare for Curriculum for Excellence, as well as the national qualifications.

The SQA said that it had received positive feedback from teachers and lecturers about its Understanding Standards programme, which is designed to help make sense of assessment for new qualifications.


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