Teachers protest at workload for new courses

Teachers have raised concerns over the workload involved in preparing pupils to sit the new National exams brought in to replace Standard Grades.

Level of concern over SQA preparation 'unprecedented'. Picture: Getty
Level of concern over SQA preparation 'unprecedented'. Picture: Getty
Level of concern over SQA preparation 'unprecedented'. Picture: Getty

The first set of students taught the new qualification will sit exams this spring, but teachers have cited a lack of support from the body that developed the changes.

In a survey carried out by the EIS union, teachers raised concerns over poor quality materials provided by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), frequent revisions to guideline documents and the “cumbersome” assessment process.

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A modern languages teacher reported: “I have never felt under so much pressure in my teaching profession than of late.

“Staff morale is at an all-time low due to lack of clarity from the SQA, workload is unmanageable, assessments are flawed, marking keys do not match questions and the fact that we have to spend all of our spare time trying to work out these issues is frankly unfair.”

A geography teacher said: “The new Nationals were supposed to reduce the burden of assessment. However, this is clearly not the case and unfortunately nobody has bothered to tell the SQA.

“At National 5 geography, 22 separate learning outcomes have to be written, assessed, documented and ultimately verified, which is extremely cumbersome. We are spending far too much time planning, writing and even debating the type and style of assessments, instead of what we should be focusing on: delivering high-quality lessons.”

The new National qualification is part of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) programme introduced four years ago, which places more emphasis on choice and cross-subject learning.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We are witnessing an unprecedented level of concern from our members in schools about SQA.

“Over 80 per cent of our local associations have contacted us directly about a range of issues – lack of clarity around procedures, inadequate support being offered, assessment overload, excessive verification demands, and poor exemplification of standards. Teacher anger and frustration is palpable.

“The EIS has raised these issues with SQA and we appreciate that it is working hard to address concerns, but … we are now half-way through the school session, literally weeks away from the first diet of exams, and there are still too many challenges.”

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Janet Brown, SQA chief executive, said: “SQA’s key priority in the coming months is to work in partnership with teachers to provide the additional support they need.

“SQA listens very carefully to feedback from teachers and continues to provide a detailed programme of support.

“Almost 7,500 teachers have attended 140 subject events for the new Nationals and SQA’s Curriculum for Excellence liaison team continues to visit every school across Scotland to meet teachers and parents, explain the changes, answer questions and gather feedback to gauge what further support is needed.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scottish Government, SQA, Education Scotland and other partners have provided teachers with unprecedented support for Curriculum for Excellence and the new qualifications.

“This includes more than £5 million of additional funding since 2012, two extra in-service days, course materials for each of the 95 National 4 and 5 qualifications, and subject-specific events for thousands of teachers.

“We will continue to listen to teachers to ensure they get further help if needed.”