Union backs teacher's '˜utterly failing' letter to Nicola Sturgeon

A leading teachers' union has said the 'vast majority' of people in the profession would echo the sentiments of a frustrated secondary school teacher who has written an open letter to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warning that the current education system is 'utterly failing' children.

Fears have been raised over a teaching crisis. Picture TSPL
Fears have been raised over a teaching crisis. Picture TSPL

Mark Wilson, who teaches at Dunfermline High School said the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) six years ago has sparked an “unprecedented decline in the organisation and standard of Scottish education.”

In a scathing letter to Ms Sturgeon, he said repeated changes to the curriculum’s content and teaching guidelines are having a “drastic” impact on pupils’ ability to learn, while staff are increasingly “demoralised” and “stressed.”

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Jane Peckham, national official for the NASUWT in Scotland, said teachers across the country shared Mr Wilson’s concerns.

She said: “We can’t agree more with Mr Wilson about teacher morale. The advertising of the success of CfE is largely because teachers have pushed on to implement it, regardless of what they’re experiencing with their own work life balance. • READ MORE: SNP must ‘decouple’ Brexit from indyref2, says David Mundell

“But the goodwill is starting to run out now. Over two thirds of our members are saying they would leave the profession tomorrow if they could, and that’s a figure that’s been increasing year on year. It can’t be ignored any longer.”

She added: “I’m not surprised at the sentiment in Mr Wilson’s letter and I would say that it’s not just the view of one or two people. I think the vast majority of people in the profession feel that way.”

Mr Wilson, who has been a teacher for nearly 16 years, urged Ms Sturgeon to forget about the “never ending cycle of soundbites, argument, and counter-argument” surrounding Scottish education, and instead take action to address the “logistic and practical mess” of the curriculum

In his letter, widely circulated on social media, Mr Wilson wrote: “In last six years I’ve witnessed, and been unwilling party to, an unprecedented decline in the organisation and standard of Scottish education. Simply, the system as it stands is not fit for purpose.

“It is demoralising, hobbling and utterly failing the children in our care; as well as lowering attainment and widening social inequality in our pupils.”

Mr Wilson, who teaches biology, said changes to his own subject had resulted in a Nat 5 course that is “unreasonably difficult, lacking opportunity for practical activities, far too prescriptive, overly concerned with inconsequential minutiae and extremely content-heavy.”

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He also criticised the way in which teachers were tasked with designing and writing course for the new Nat 5 and Nat 4 qualifications without “clear guidance,” a development he said has resulted in “vastly different” standards around the country.”

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), said that although he did not “disagree” with Mr Wilson’s views, the real problem was the way the current qualifications system has been “bolted on” to CfE.

He said: “When CfE was established there was no thought given as to how it was assessed. They’ve relied on the old fashioned way of doing things, which doesn’t marry up with the curriculum. The qualifications needed to be amended and changed so that there was continuous assessment going through the whole system.”

He added: “Some of the things we’re doing are for the sake of it. We should be developing a love of education in youngsters but we’re driving it out of them. S3 is becoming the starting place for examinations. Youngsters that age should be enjoying education and should not be under pressure.”

Figures released last month suggest Scottish schools had as many as 500 vacancies ahead of the new school year. Some 20 councils reported 404 unfilled posts evenly split between primary and secondary schools, with 12 other local authorities trying to fill around 100 positions

The latest Pisa results show there are 14 countries rated better than Scotland in maths, 13 in reading and 12 in science. In 2006, the numbers were nine, six and six respectively.

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A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government values teachers for the vital work they do educating and inspiring our young people. We have made a commitment to tackle bureaucracy and address excessive teacher workload. That will continue to be a key theme of our bold education reforms which also include headteachers being given more power to make decisions in their schools to improve education and more money to make the changes needed.

“As the OECD’s independent review showed, CfE is the right approach for Scotland and provides a solid foundation on which to transform education nationally, with the latest exam results and statistics on positive destinations demonstrating that CfE is successfully meeting the needs of young people. Changes to National Qualifications were welcomed when announced last year,with the removal of unit assessments freeing up time for teachers to focus on learning and teaching.”