Teachers threaten action over refusal to delay exams

SCOTLAND’S largest teaching union has warned that its members may be forced to take action against councils which refuse to delay the introduction of the new Higher exam.
Picture: PAPicture: PA
Picture: PA

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) has written to local authorities it says are ignoring guidance from education secretary Mike Russell.

Last year, the minister said schools would be able to delay the introduction of the revamped Higher to give teachers more time to prepare.

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But the EIS said some education departments appeared to be “inflexible”, instructing schools to adopt the new exam, despite concerns from teachers.

It warned that failure to listen to teachers could lead to a series of “professional grievances” being lodged and even co-ordinated disputes at school or local authority level.

In his letter, EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan reminded councils the education secretary had agreed to requests that the implementation of the new qualification be left to the “professional discretion” of teachers.

“This was partly to do with identified issues concerning the timeline for implementation of the new qualification, but primarily it was predicated on the premise that teachers in schools were better placed to assess what would produce the best option for their pupils than an external body dictating a particular position,” he said.

“To date this seems to have encouraged professional dialogue about the issue and in most cases a resolution has been found.

“We are aware, however, that this is not the case everywhere with some senior management appearing inflexible and even some local authorities seeking to instruct schools to proceed with the new Higher, irrespective of school-based concerns.

“The EIS view is that such an approach is incompatible with the national position set out by the cabinet secretary and it is our intention to advise members accordingly. This may result in a series of professional grievances being taken out and even escalation to the declaration of a dispute at school or local authority level. Clearly, our preferred outcome would be for such situations to be avoided.”

The union said a number of councils were willing to press ahead with the new exam, but would not name them.

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The EIS intervention over the Higher comes as S4 pupils prepare to sit the new National 5 exams, which were brought in to replace Standard Grades.

Part of the continued roll-out of Curriculum for Excellence, the Nationals have been dogged by controversy, with unions repeatedly warning that teachers have not been given enough guidance and support.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have made clear that the most natural progression is from National Qualifications to the new Higher and have put in place additional support – including £5 million and an extra in-service day for secondary teachers – to assist.”

A spokesman for the local government body Cosla said: “Let’s not get this out of proportion. This is simply about councils doing their jobs and people second-guessing the decisions they make is not helpful.”