Time for some home truths

Seamus Searson, general secretary, Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association

The rhetoric has been about more ‘power’ for schools, without mentioning the additional responsibility attached. We must ask: is the Education Bill right for Scotland’s future?

The 2018 Education Bill was intended to create a school and teacher-led education system. However, legislation should only be necessary when it is built on public consensus. Most of the changes intended were not welcomed by the majority of the public and

were focused on system change, and little of what were priorities for the teacher in the classroom.

The measures in the draft Bill could have been achieved without legislation and are, in some cases, already progressing.

During the consultation the rhetoric was “more power for schools” (i.e. more money) without mentioning the additional responsibility attached. It is well known that if you want to bring about change then additional money is necessary rather than reallocating from other needy areas.

The creation of a Headteachers’ Charter is not wanted by most headteachers, who are struggling to cope with the current demands placed upon them. Headteachers are anxious not to reduce the support given to them by local authorities.

The creation of Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) should see more collaboration of schools and local authorities. However, the focus must be on creating time, opportunities and bureaucracy-reducing measures to allow teachers to focus on teaching and learning. The fear for teachers is that they could end up with more scrutiny, more accountability and usually more work for the hard-pressed teacher.

The priority must be to make changes that are going to help the teacher in the classroom today. If the proposed Education Bill is not going to help those teachers then it shouldn’t be progressed. The Education Bill does not address the issues that are important to teachers in the classroom today – pay, career enhancement, workload and pupil behaviour.

The teacher union restorative pay claim for 2018 is the first step to tackling the retention and recruitment problems we face here in Scotland. The newly established Career Pathways working group should be seen as an opportunity to redress the balance and value the excellent contribution teachers have made for many years. The need to develop and motivate the teacher workforce cannot be underestimated.

An end to the constant undermining of teachers’ professional judgement would relieve teacher workload. We also need sensible lesson-planning arrangements and manageable tracking and monitoring systems that focus on the pupils at the margins rather than the full pupil cohort.

A review of the national qualification process that allows teachers to teach and pupils to learn would be sensible. We have a system that is focused on what the teacher has managed to deliver and a system of year upon year bureaucracy and stress for both pupils and teachers. It should not be difficult to find an assessment arrangement that works in the background and allows teaching and learning to be enjoyable again.

There is also a need to question the purpose of school inspections. Most schools fear the inspector’s visit, usually for the increased teacher workload. Often, it is the teachers themselves who hype up the fear and stress. Once an inspection is underway, teachers often question what all the fuss was about. With the introduction of the RICs it is time to end the “micro-management” inspection system at school level and focus on the RIC and the local authority to ensure all young people in an area reach their full potential.

The role of local authorities in supporting pupils and their families cannot be reduced. They have the ability to bring together all the local services to support pupils and their families in their journey through school. The local authority should also play an important part in removing burdens and obstacles from teachers and headteachers and allow them to exert all their energies on teaching and learning.

Unfortunately, over the past years the teacher voice has been marginalised and, in particular, the voice of the secondary school teacher. The minister has surrounded himself with people who say the things that he wants to hear. It is much harder to listen to those who will challenge you and are prepared to question your direction of travel.

The SSTA has represented its members by putting their views to all levels within the education system. Unfortunately, some of the “home truths” are not too easy to take. We want to work with all parties to address teacher issues and find solutions as we embark on a potentially exciting time in Scottish education.

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