The claim that “bullying tactics” are being used against teachers to improve pupils’ results has been made in a letter to Nicola Sturgeon from an anonymous teacher.
The letter paints a bleak picture of Scottish education, claiming the system is in crisis and people are afraid to speak out for fear of reprisals from their schools or local authorities.
The author said the letter had been written in order to speak out about the “volatile situation” that Scottish education finds itself in and lists complaints including the workload, an “authoritarian” culture and the bureaucratic burden placed on teachers.
The letter, which was also sent to the Lib Dems, has come to light at a time when Sturgeon and John Swinney, the Education Secretary, are under intense pressure over their handling of the education brief.
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, is embroiled in a damaging row with the Scottish Government and the local authorities’ body, Cosla, over pay.
Teachers are demanding a 10 per cent rise to make up for years of austerity and the EIS is urging its members to reject a Scottish Government/Cosla offer and has opened a ballot on industrial action.
Swinney was attacked by opponents for persisting with tests for pupils in primary one despite Holyrood voting against them.
Last week Scottish Government data showed the number of primary schools forced to share headteachers had risen by almost two thirds to 390 since 2010.
Sturgeon and Swinney have staked their political reputations on closing the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils.
But questions about how pupils are assessed were raised in the anonymous letter, which claimed teachers were often “gagged” by management when it came to school reports.
“In my experience, we as teachers are often gagged by management as to how honest we can be in our reports,” the author said.
“I am not the only teacher who has been asked (read: told) to change the wording or tracking indicators in my reports to make it more positive. This is a disturbing and insidious practice. I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and restorative practice but we should never be asked to put a positive spin on a pupil’s academic performance or behaviour if it cannot be justified, let alone backed up by evidence.”
The teacher claimed “appeasing” parents in this way distorted reality and kept them from complaining.
“I know of several colleagues across different Scottish local authorities, who have had undue pressure exerted on them by management to change the wording of their reports, tracking indicators or indeed even the attainment levels,” the teacher continued.
“By doing this management are asking teachers to compromise their professional judgment and integrity. Teachers who do not bend under undue managerial pressure and refuse to redact comments made in their reports, for example, can be forced into an impossible position: being marginalised by management and having their report modified by a member of the senior management team against their professional judgement.”
The letter’s author also suggested there was “pressure coming from the top” to make attainment look better than it actually is.
The teacher added: “Not only is this unacceptable, bullying tactics but it totally undermines the concept of teacher professional judgement.”
Sturgeon and Swinney were urged to change the “authoritarian and blame-apportioning culture” in schools, warning teachers were reluctant to use whistleblowing procedures for fear of reprisals.
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Tavish Scott said: “Scotland’s teachers are overworked and underappreciated and, despite the promises, we see no sign these pressures are going to dissipate.
“EIS negotiators are describing the latest Scottish Government pay offer as ‘derisory’ and ‘divisive’. John Swinney has shown little inclination to listen to teachers. I hope Sturgeon will have the humility to sit down with teachers and listen to their serious concerns.
“Teachers are the backbone of Scottish education and they ought to command the pay and conditions to reflect that. That is one reason Scottish Liberal Democrats have been calling for an independent expert commission to review teachers’ terms and the demands placed upon them.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Teachers are best placed to know how the children in their classes are progressing. No teacher should feel under any pressure to alter their professional judgment of a learner’s progress. Standardised assessments now provide a valuable additional tool to establish the attainment being achieved by pupils, supporting teachers’ own judgments, and ensuring they can be robust and consistent in their reporting of attainment.”