Teachers ‘demoralised and undervalued’ after changes at Edinburgh schools

Principal teacher posts have been cut as part of an Edinburgh City Council efficiency drive. Picture: Cate Gillon.
Principal teacher posts have been cut as part of an Edinburgh City Council efficiency drive. Picture: Cate Gillon.
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TEACHERS have been left “demoralised and undervalued” as they struggle to cope with an increased workload following a council shake-up of the management structure in secondary schools.

A recent survey conducted by the country’s largest education trade union, EIS, revealed that almost 86 per cent of curriculum leaders taking part in the survey believed the changes in management structure have actually disadvantaged the pupils.

More than 80 per cent of curriculum leaders also said they felt the new structure had affected the progress towards the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence “for the worse”.

Last November, the News told how, in an attempt to save £2.4 million, education bosses had decided to create a reduced number of “curriculum leader” posts to replace principal teacher roles, while also axing 15 deputy head posts.

The changes were widely criticised by parents, teachers and opposition councillors.

Fifty-two principal teachers opted to leave their jobs last summer through the council’s voluntary early release arrangement, leaving a “surplus” of 80 who were then demoted to classroom teachers while maintaining their salaries for up to five years. Out of the 80, a further 29 have since chosen to leave.

A total of 206 curriculum leader jobs have been created, compared with the 408 principal teacher roles held across Edinburgh’s secondary schools.

The new roles have seen staff being put in charge of a faculty rather than individual subjects, reducing the number of management posts within schools.

Councillors at Tuesday’s education committee meeting were given an update on the progress of the new structures, which are now in place across the city’s 23 secondary schools.

Education chiefs conceded that a number of concerns were also highlighted in a council questionnaire completed by 134 teaching staff to date, which included the impact of the changes on their workload and not having enough time to do their job effectively.

Conservative education spokesman Councillor Jason Rust said: “Change often presents difficulties, but the survey responses have thrown up some serious concerns. It is now incumbent upon the council to address these. If the allocation of management time is not sufficient then this needs to be addressed. Similarly, if there are consequential curriculum implementation issues, then these too need to be reviewed.

“The savings which have been achieved through this reform are welcome but cannot be viewed in isolation from any educational impact, and it is vital the council engage with those directly involved so we get the best possible set-up in our schools.”

The number of principal guidance and learning support teachers has also been reduced, from 130 to 102, in the council’s shake-up of the management structure in secondaries.

The city’s education leader, Councillor Paul Godzik, said the council was doing “everything it possibly can” to work through the issues identified in the surveys. He put forward an amendment at the meeting for the Children and Families Department to address the issues raised in the surveys and report back to the education committee before the end of June 2013, as well as provide a full financial breakdown of the savings.

Edinburgh EIS secretary Alison Thornton said: “Edinburgh Local Association of the EIS welcomes the decision of the education, children and families committee to require further close monitoring and evaluation of the impact of the secondary school management restructuring.

“The new structures have only recently been fully introduced and there are a number of areas of concern emerging from staff surveys. Work has to be done to address these issues, especially as the restructuring has coincided with the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.

“In these times of many changes, it has to be recognised that all teachers in Edinburgh continue to deliver an excellent education to pupils.”

Among the comments provided by teaching staff in the EIS survey was: “I cannot see how this move has improved teaching and learning in our or any other department. Clear to see that this was a move that wasn’t thought through and which had as its sole purpose the saving of money.”

Another teacher said: “It is not working! The person who is suffering most in this is the classroom teacher, as more and more is becoming their ‘duty’, with no time/payment for it.”

Meanwhile, Sheila Gilmore, MP for Edinburgh East, branded the survey results “worrying”.

She said: “There are substantial challenges in implementing the Curriculum for Excellence and it is worrying that a substantial number of teachers feel that they have been expected to take on the role of subject leaders without enough support, which will have an impact on our young people.”

Among the positive responses in the council questionnaire was that the new structures in schools “greatly help faculty links and collaboration between staff and subject areas”.

However, the “in-school management of behaviour” was raised as an issue in relation to the removal of subject principal teachers, including the physical distance between subject departments in some schools.

Reduced opportunity for promotion for main grade teacher and curriculum leaders was also a concern among staff.

Acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association Alan McKenzie described the restructuring as a “thinly disguised cost-cutting measure, by which the interests of the young people are simply brushed aside”.

He added: “The survey mirrors exactly our own memberships concern.

“The creation of labyrinthine structures simply leads to a complete loss of direction in terms of learning and teaching. That is to the detriment of young people. It is difficult to see how authorities continue to introduce this nonsense in the face of clear evidence that it does not work. The only explanation is cynical cost-cutting.”

The online EIS survey was conducted in October and November and completed by 295 teaching staff in Edinburgh’s secondary schools – 206 teachers, 66 curriculum leaders and 23 pupil and learning support staff.

More than 90 per cent of pupil and learning support staff felt the changes in structure had affected the support that they can give to pupils, while 71.4 per cent of curriculum leaders said they had not received any support to manage their new faculty.

Almost 90 per cent of curriculum leaders taking part in the survey agreed that the allocation of management time was not sufficient to carry out their new duties.

Melanie Main, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Greens, said the feedback was a “sobering reminder” that there is no such thing as a pain-free cut in education budgets.

“The aim might have been to focus cuts on senior posts but it is clear that there is direct feed-through to what young people experience in the classroom,” she said.

“It also comes at a critical time for public confidence in the new Curriculum for Excellence. I want the education department to listen carefully to what teachers are telling them and be open to changing plans if it is clear that concerns about workload, morale and forward planning persist.”

Cllr Godzik added: “I recognise there are ongoing concerns with regard to this, and as a coalition and administration, we are absolutely committed to working with the trade unions to resolve these issues. It’s absolutely vital that teachers have the appropriate support.”