Chris Marshall: Teachers need support

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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My FAVOURITE teacher at school was a middle-aged lady whom I’ll refer to here at Mrs Mc.

Mrs Mc was a history teacher, and she was also an eccentric.

On dress-down day, when pupils and teachers alike wore their civvies, Mrs Mc turned up wearing her nightie and dressing gown.

When my friend and I diligently went beyond the call of duty, turning up for a history symposium at Strathclyde University on a Saturday morning, Mrs Mc told us off for not wearing school uniform.

And while our peers across the country were no doubt studying 20th-century British history, our class was immersed in the finer detail of Bismarckian policy in 19th-century Germany.

It was because of all this, rather than despite it, that Mrs Mc was a great teacher.

She clearly made her mark: my friend – now a BBC foreign correspondent – and I both studied history at university.

I know that, on my part at least, this was in no small way down to her and her passion for the subject.

Mired as we are in the controversy surrounding the implementation of Scotland’s new school exams, the Nationals, it’s easy to forget just how important individual teachers are.

There are concerns that S4 pupils have not been sufficiently prepared for the new qualifications, which have been brought in to replace Standard Grades as part of the continued roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence.

The blame for this has been variously ascribed to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Education Scotland and the education secretary.

It all seems far removed from the decentralised, free-thinking curriculum we were promised, in which teachers, to use the official jargon, would be the “agents of change”.

At yesterday’s education committee in the Scottish Parliament, an official from Education Scotland told MSPs that many teachers felt extra pressure to “get it right” for their pupils and that had contributed to their increased workloads.

But if we believe what we are told by the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, then it seems our teachers have so far been let down by those in charge of seeing through the implementation of the new curriculum.

What is clear, however, is that any last-minute interventions – such as the additional £5 million in support from the Scottish Government announced last week – can only go some way to ameliorate long-standing difficulties.

With the exams just weeks away, it has been left to our teachers to deliver the excellence which our new curriculum so grandly promised.