A "workload tsunami" has left many teachers "on their knees" this year and staff need to start refusing extra work, the leader of Scotland's biggest teaching union has said.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said that during more than 30 years in the profession, he had never seen the "levels of exhaustion and despair" among teachers that were evident this year. Addressing the union's annual general meeting, he put this down to the introduction of the new Nationals and Curriculum for Excellence.
The EIS has agreed to prepare a campaign "up to and including strike action", expected to be in place by December this year, to demonstrate its opposition to the increased burden on teachers. A ballot over pay-related industrial action is also likely if a satisfactory wage rise is not agreed by April 2015.
Mr Flanagan urged members to make a clear stand now by starting to "say no" in order to force policymakers to react. "At the moment members are doing everything, and unless we stop doing something the workload will never decrease," he said. "The role of the EIS is to provide members with the collective strength to say no."
The Scottish Qualifications Authority and others had to be "held to account" for the "visceral experience in our schools", he argued.
Mr Flanagan anticipated that the SQA would say it had met all its targets on delivering the new National qualifications this year. But the fact that no major problems were reported with the recently completed exam period was down to teachers working "to breaking point", and this did not mean that nothing needed to change.
"The actual exam has been the least problematic thing about it," he said. "The challenge has been getting pupils to that stage where they can sit the exam. We have to be very clear to all in Scottish education that the experience this year for pupils and staff is unacceptable."
Earlier in the conference, EIS members called on the union to "expose to public scrutiny" what they claimed was the failure of the SQA to deliver a coherent and workable senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence.
They also asked for the union to investigate and report on the workload implications of SQA verification procedures for the new Nationals. Delegates raised serious concerns over the number of internal assessments required for the qualifications, which were introduced this year, and called for a reduction.
EIS council member Andy Harvey labelled the situation a "disgrace", adding: "One step the SQA could take is to simply reduce the number of assessments in the senior phase. In my subject, students do at least six assessments. I have never known teenagers to be so stressed by coursework. School should be the most enriching experience of their life."
Glasgow delegate Charles McKinnon said that some students were required to complete more than 40 assessments, which he described as "an intolerable burden". The new system was meant to be less exam-focused and result in more autonomy for teachers, he added, but the curriculum was now centred around assessment and documentation.
Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, said: "With the introduction of new qualifications comes the responsibility of ensuring they are fit for purpose. I'm pleased to say that the work of teachers and lecturers across the country has been instrumental in helping to make this happen.
"We have continued to listen to teachers, lecturers and local authorities and will continue to work in partnership to ensure the smooth implementation of the new qualifications for the benefit of the young people of Scotland."
Members at this year's EIS gathering in Perth also passed a motion calling for a ban on the sale of energy drinks to children under the age of 16. And the union said that it would campaign for a change in the law so that independent schools would no longer be able to claim charitable status.