TEACHING unions in Scotland have raised concerns about the amount of work linked to the new curriculum, with some teachers saying they have to work more than 60 hours a week.
But they acknowledged some schools were making additional unnecessary work for themselves through a misunderstanding of the assessment criteria and a desire to get it right.
The views about the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) were made to Holyrood’s Education Committee, which also heard from Alasdair Allan, the minister for learning.
The committee hearing comes as teachers and pupils prepare for the new National 4 and 5 qualifications, which replace standard grades, later this year.
MSPs also heard concerns about an apparent lack of exam practice papers, although the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said they will be available and there is less need for them under the new system.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said: “Workload has been one of the key barriers.
“From an EIS point of view, we have not witnessed as much feedback about workload as we have in the last year for some considerable time.
“There’s always a workload pressure on teaching and some of the workload is natural because we have a new set of qualifications and so there are new challenges.”
He added: “I know we are putting SQA in the dock a little bit, but a lot of additional workload has come through schools not being certain about what’s being asked and therefore over-preparing in case an inspector calls.
“So, a lot of schools have actually generated workload themselves in order to try and reassure themselves that they are getting it right.
“That’s where clearer messages would have stopped all of that.”
Richard Goring, of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), said his group had an “unprecedented” response to a recent teacher survey on CfE.
“Workload was mentioned in a huge number of responses,” he said.
“We had teachers working way in excess of their contractual hours, with 50 hours often mentioned, 60 hours, and some people even more than that.
“Probably 50% of respondents, if not more, talked about workload as a major issue.
“We do see, with teachers wanting to get it right, some degree of over-assessment and it’s our job to keep reassuring them and keep reinforcing some really clear messages that we have been giving around assessment.”
He continued: “We often hear that this process is an evolution and that it will take several years to get where we want to be.
“That is a brand new idea for teachers. In the past when new qualifications have come in teachers have been provided with curriculum notes, sample papers, national assessment bank items that you can start with and you can build on that, and have firm foundation up on which to build.
“But a lot of teachers at the moment feel that there are no firm foundations that they understand, so I would suggest that is a big problem.”
MSPs raised concerns about an apparent lack of practice papers.
Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, said: “One of the things that we wanted to do was reduce the number of practice prelims that pupils were trying to go through.”
CfE includes a large element of coursework that counts towards the final qualifications, reducing the need for practice prelims, she said.
“In some cases we were hearing of students undertaking two or three preliminary examinations, which I think is a real challenge for students,” she said.
Mr Allan, who appeared before the committee after the unions, said this year is “critical” for the new curriculum.
“I readily accept that change on this scale has represented very considerable work by teachers. But we have never been complacent around the need to support teachers in doing it,” he said.
“We have been consistently sensitive to the need to support teachers through this process, listening to the views they express and acting responsively, and responsibly, to these.
“We already have put in place an unprecedented level of support - both nationally and locally.”
The Scottish Government wants to ease the burden on teachers, he said.
“The assessment process is not meant to be burdensome,” he added.
“A key focus has been the need to move away from unnecessary ‘teaching to the test’, to enable teachers to dedicate more time to teaching and learning.”