Scottish MPs told of teachers’ continuing concerns over Highers


Lack of cash, materials and preparation time is causing teachers “major problems” over the introduction of new Highers this academic year, MSPs have been told.

Holyrood’s education committee heard how teachers are still anxious about the new exams, which most pupils will take for the first time in May.

The success of pupils who sat the new National 4 and 5 exams last summer should not be used to justify a similar lack of support for the Highers, according to Richard Goring of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA).

“The results last year, which were very commendable, are in spite of a lack of support. It’s more a tribute to the sheer industry and determination of teachers to get through the course and make the best of what they had,” he said.

“There’s still major problems about materials, resources, budgets and obviously time.”

Candidates achieved a 93 per cent pass rate for the National 4 courses and 81.1 per cent for the more academically advanced National 5 courses.

But Mr Goring went on: “Teachers are not happy with the way things are at the moment. They feel they need more support, more examples of things to look at and model their own practice around.

“They need more practice papers so they can see what’s likely to be asked of their pupils at the end of the day.”

It was vital teachers also had assurances that courses would not change halfway through the session, as was reported with the new Nationals, and they also needed examples of assessments, he said.

Education secretary Mike Russell has already let some councils postpone the introduction of the new Highers by a year.

But Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, told MSPs: “It’s more support than has ever been provided to any change in education in Scotland.

“It’s always difficult, the first year of any change, especially in education, because teachers care so passionately about the future of their students.”

She added: “As they move forward, they become more confident and I think the support will be more easily accessible to them.”

More than 80 per cent of teachers say workload is a cause of “severe stress” according to a survey carried out by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), while the SSTA says that 50 to 60-hour weeks are not uncommon among teachers trying to meet expectations.

“That workload is simply unsustainable,” said Larry Flanagan of the EIS.

A survey of pupils by the Scottish Youth Parliament found that many felt “under-prepared” for the National 4 and 5 exams and “struggled to understand the new system”. Most of the 67 pupils who responded said their teachers were also under-prepared, citing lack of resources and time. Only 38 per cent said they felt their courses prepared them for the National 4s and 5s, while 29 per cent did not and 33 per cent were unsure.



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