Teachers are on the verge of crisis over new exams

New national exams will be sat by pupils later this month. Picture: TSPL
New national exams will be sat by pupils later this month. Picture: TSPL
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SCOTLAND’S teachers are on the “verge of crisis” over soaring workloads and confusion about the new national exams to be sat by pupils later this month, education secretary Mike Russell was told yesterday.

At a fringe meeting staged by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, Mr Russell was told there is still a “huge level of confusion” about the overhaul, including the replacement for standard grades, which gets under way on 29 April, and the new Highersearmarked for next summer.

Mr Russell heard that the introduction of the exams is placing an unfair burden on teachers, which amounts to a “direct attack on children and young people”

In response, Mr Russell acknowledged that there had been “difficulties” with the new system, but said he has always provided the resources to deal with this.

The new exams are part of the Scottish Government’s wider Curriculum for Excellence, which the union said yesterday had widespread support among members as far as its aims and objectives to provide a “broad and relevant” education for youngsters.

But its implementation has led to concerns over burgeoning workloads, the union said.

A recent survey by NASUWT found six in ten teachers said their school has yet to dec­ide whether to delay the introduction of the new Higher for a year. Of those schools which have, about half will be delaying.

Jane Peckham, the union’s Scotland organiser, added: “There’s a huge level of confusion across the system about arrangements for the new qualifications.” This has left teachers feeling “disempowered” as they struggle to cope with the workload and lack of clarity over the new exams: “This demonstrates the damage being inflicted on the professionalism, morale and skills of teachers,” she added.

“I think the government has to take this as a graphic illustration that you’re presiding over a profession which is on the verge of crisis. This attack on the profession is actually an attack on children and young people.”

NASUWT Scottish president Mike Corbett, an English teacher at Bearsden Academy, said there is still a “lack of understanding of what’s expected” among teachers about the new S4 exams replacing standard grades later this month.

He said that although most teachers believe they are “doing the right thing”, there remains confusion about whether the subject matter they teach will be in the final assessments.

Mr Corbett said: “We would have maybe liked to see more SQA verifiers coming out to schools and getting feedback about this.”

The new Highers will be introduced next summer and the Mr Russell has already said schools which aren’t ready will have the “flexibility” to delay this for a year. But he added: “The problem is that some local authorities are not allowing the flexibility in individual schools.

“In North Lanarkshire, for example, the director of education has told all 24 secondary schools that they all must implement it next year.”

The union has been made aware of other anecdotal examples of this around the country and has raised the issue with Mr Russell. But he said the new system will allow teachers to teach and give them “responsibility for taking forward education”.

But he added: “Workload has been very tough because this is a big change.”

A working group was set up to examine the issue and found the Curriculum for Excellence should provide a way to “liberate” teacher workloads.

Mr Russell said he had all­owed schools the flexibility to delay the introduction of the new Highers, scheduled for next year, as the system will already be “double running” the new exams to accommodate sixth year pupils.