Scots pupils ‘robbed’ of chance to study Shakespeare

Naomi Westwood, a teacher for 15 years, says new internal assessments introduced by Scotland's exam body have forced her to scrap the study of Macbeth. Picture: SWNS
Naomi Westwood, a teacher for 15 years, says new internal assessments introduced by Scotland's exam body have forced her to scrap the study of Macbeth. Picture: SWNS
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Scots pupils are being robbed of the chance to study Shakespeare because of “pointless” school red tape, a teacher has warned.

Naomi Westwood, a teacher for 15 years, says new internal assessments introduced by Scotland’s exam body have forced her to scrap the study of Macbeth.

Ms Westwood, 45, who teachers English at Lochaber High in Fort William, says the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) requires teachers to spend so much time carrying out assessments on pupils that there’s no time left to study the Bard.

She said: “For the first time in my years of teaching English to S4 pupils I had to face the painful realisation that there was no way we could find time to read Macbeth because we had internal assessments and exams to slog through.

“So, instead of Shakespeare, we did so-called listening and reading assessments which ask them pointless and baffling questions. I wonder if some of them will ever get the chance to study Shakespeare again?”

Ms Westwood said she was in “despair at the utter failure of those in power in education to protect pupils from the worst excesses of the SQA imposition of pointless assessment and bureaucracy throughout the senior school”.

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Ms Westwood said the problem has been made worse by timetabling issues introduced under the new Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) which have seen many schools reduce the number of subjects on offer from eight to six.

Schools which have retained eight - such as Lochaber High - are struggling to fit all the content into the time available.

She added: “Our pupils are being cheated out of their birthright to a real education. The SQA could simply listen to teachers and drop all the unnecessary internal assessments. Pupils are being denied the education they deserve.

“No one is daring to tell the truth: that the SQA has become the worst kind of quango, accountable to no one, least of all the young people it exists to serve and the teachers who try to guide these learners through the maze of qualifications.

“With up to 29 assessment standards to ‘tick off’, senior school has become a spiritless and unhappy time. Able and conscientious pupils are panicking and stressed while the less motivated have become passive, no longer questioning, just getting it over with.

“As the curriculum changes progressed, my colleagues and I hoped we had seen the worst. We were wrong: this year has been even worse.”

Ms Westwood made her remarks in a letter published in The Herald today (Monday).

Speaking after the letter was published, she said: “I really want next year’s pupils not to have to go through these internal assessments so that we can reintroduce the joy of learning.”

Ms Westwood, a teacher since 2001 and a graduate of Edinburgh University, wrote the first draft of the letter at 4am one morning when she couldn’t sleep for worry caused by assessment changes.

She said: “As teachers, we thought the SQA would come to its senses, but it hasn’t.”

Ms Westwood, a member of the EIS union, used to be a marker for the SQA but has resigned in protest at the amount of bureaucracy teachers must now wade through.

Her remarks come as the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, prepares to ballot members over possible industrial action over increased teacher workloads brought about by CfE.

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Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said: “Curriculum for Excellence promised a decluttering of that curriculum to allow more space and time for teaching and learning but this is not the experience of most teachers.

“Tackling workload and bureaucracy is essential if teachers are to be freed-up to teach.

An SQA spokesman said it worked closely with schools and teaching unions to ensure assessment of pupils was kept “proportionate while maintaining national standards”.

The spokesman added: “We also provide support for teachers and lecturers through our understanding standards programme and have received positive feedback from those sessions.

“We will continue to identify improvements that can be implemented over the short and medium term.”

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