Teacher workload in Scotland

Date: 17.06.16
Letter to Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney


17 June 2016 

Letter to Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney

Dear Mr Swinney

Thank you for your letter of 14 June 2016 letter of 14 June 2016, requesting ideas with a view to reducing workload.

As noted within our e-mail to you of 14 June 2016, Voice Scotland welcomes the opportunity to engage with Scottish Government on the issue of teacher workload.

Voice Scotland is pleased to note Scottish Government’s willingness to tackle this important issue. Indeed, The Guardian’s 2016 survey Beyond the Timetable: the reality of teachers’ lives indicated that 67% of Scottish respondents considered that workload was having a serious impact on their physical health and 73% on their mental health. This is consistent with our own members’ feedback to us on stress associated with their job role.

We also support Scottish Government’s aim to close the attainment gap within Scottish education. It is essential that teacher workload is addressed as a matter of urgency in order to create the capacity required within the system to fulfil this ambition for Scottish education and to ensure the health and wellbeing of the education workforce.

At the outset, it is also important to note that Voice Scotland has been a member of the CfE Working Group on Tackling Bureaucracy and continues to support the actions recommended by the Group. However, progress on implementation at a local level of these actions has been a good deal slower than is desirable. It is our organisation’s view that, in taking forward the issue of workload, the action points from this Working Group should be incorporated within that to ensure consistency in approaches to date, with a continued driving of these actions at local level.

Financial climate and the staffing structure

It is essential to take cognisance of the financial climate within which education professionals are operating.  A meaningful dialogue between schools, local authorities, Scottish Government and trade unions is required to examine priority areas and to review the effect of any spending decisions on wider policy aspirations.

Reductions to local authority budgets and cuts to support staffing, together with significant difficulties in securing adequate teacher recruitment, supply cover and headteacher recruitment, have led to a severe shortage in teacher capacity within the system. This has further exacerbated the workload issue in combination with the fast pace of change within Scottish education policy in recent years. Valuable work on school links and implementation of national priorities is bound to suffer as schools increasingly have to concentrate on core activity with the staffing that they have in place – i.e. teaching pupils in a classroom.

As noted within our 2016 Election Statement, our classroom assistant and pupil support assistant members are making a key contribution to raising attainment for all within Scottish education, for example, in supporting literacy and numeracy activities in the classroom with groups and individual pupils. 

School support staff are often engaged with some of the most deprived children within a school and those with special needs. Voice Scotland is most concerned regarding the impact of ongoing reductions in support staffing within schools. For example, we are supporting our members across the country who are currently subject to redeployment and redundancy, including the disbanding of specialist literacy and numeracy support staff. This clearly compromises the experience of pupils with support needs and will have a negative impact on attainment and achievement for all pupils. 

We believe that a staffing standard, to ensure adequate numbers of all education professionals within an establishment, should be devised and implemented. In ensuring sufficient support staffing within schools, teachers are enabled to focus their time on activities conducive to teaching and learning. 

The workload of our teacher members in leadership roles is also at crisis point. Voice Scotland is supportive of the work of SCEL in supporting school leaders and of Scottish Government’s recent announcement on professional development. However, there is real difficulty in recruiting into headship. Indeed, the Guardian survey identified that only 3% of Scottish teachers aspire to become a headteacher. There is insufficient time for educational leadership, given the need for management to cover classes in the absence of supply teachers. 

These pressures are unlikely to be helped with the introduction of the named person and is also exacerbated in the context of joint headship arrangements. Business/administrative tasks are on the increase in light of reducing support in these areas. These are not tasks which classroom teachers have the opportunity to build up experience of in the course of their careers as classroom teachers; the introduction of faculty structures has flattened the career ladder, meaning a greater leap in taking on a headship role. Indeed, many classroom teachers view the level of business/administrative tasks now associated with headship as too far removed from delivering teaching and learning to their pupils, which is what attracted them to their career in teaching in the first place. 

It is submitted that the profile of the role of headship should continue to be promoted within Scottish education. The terms and conditions associated with management posts and job sizing arrangements require to be further considered in terms of attracting individuals to headship posts. Under current job sizing arrangements, for example, a headship role within a small school, is seen financially as a stepping stone to a depute head post in a larger school, which is nonsensical. Mentoring and support for school management should be implemented and consideration given to the introduction of a separate business manager role on a wider basis than is currently provided, to help free up time to lead. 

With regards to the crisis in teacher recruitment and supply cover, we would support, for example, a greater inclusion of local contextual factors in the teacher workforce planning process. In terms of securing adequate supply teachers, we would submit that a return to appropriate levels of pay for short term supply is a necessary step in seeking to resolve the current crisis. We will continue to work closely with our SNCT colleagues with regards to the difficulties in supply cover. 

Before moving on to examples of classroom teacher workload which present difficulty, it is important to note that, should teacher workload issues not be resolved successfully, there is also the matter of ensuring that teachers are retained within the system as it currently stands. 

The Guardian survey noted that a third of Scottish respondents with less than a year’s experience intend to leave the sector in the next five years. Retention of the workforce therefore requires to be a clear priority for Scottish education to ensure that teacher time available within the system is not further compromised. 

The evaluation of the impact of Teaching Scotland’s Future identified that further progress is required at the ITE and early career stage, including provision of additional support for probationers to further develop key pedagogical skills. High quality mentoring and support will be key in retaining teachers within the profession. Our members report that, whilst to date there has been discussions at local level regarding the early phase, little has in fact changed in practice. In fact, we understand from our members that newly qualified teachers are at times receiving less support that in the past, being required to “hit the ground running” to compensate for teacher shortages within their workplaces. Further investment is therefore required in order to ensure that appropriate support is available for probationer teachers with adequate time available for that to be undertaken by all concerned. 

Further examples of workload factors and useful resources

In terms of examples of “direct” factors contributing to teacher workload, Government policy changes are a key contributor. This view is supported by the recent evaluation of Teaching Scotland’s Future, which noted the view that there are too many national priorities in the system at present.

It is therefore our organisation’s view that national priorities for Scottish education will require to be reduced in number and streamlined. It would also be beneficial to enable schools to select area(s) of focus as appropriate from the national priorities for building into their Working Time Agreements and School Improvement Plans, in line with local priorities. This would also permit establishments to focus in more depth upon particular areas of local concern and shift focus to different national priorities in subsequent years in line with changing needs of the service.

Data input/management is another significant direct contributor to workload. Voice Scotland raised with Scottish Government previously the question of additional burdens on teachers and increased workload which would arise as a result of implementation of the National Improvement Framework.

This is challenging, particularly at a time when teachers are already feeling the strain as local authorities trim budgets and schools find themselves with little or no room to absorb additional tasks. Whilst assessments will be delivered online to help reduce the marking burden where this can be facilitated in practice, the question arises as to where the time will come from for these assessments to be completed and the diagnostic results evaluated.

It is noted that, whilst assessments will be delivered online, a provision will be included for other means of taking the assessments should a school experience significant difficulties with an online approach that cannot be overcome. Any system implemented will require to be compatible with the IT infrastructure in place within schools. We remain concerned that there will be significant difficulties in practice in this area which will take time away from teaching and learning. 

It is also noted that support and training will be provided for teachers in using the assessments and guidance on interpreting and using the results. One of the main barriers to teachers accessing Career Long Professional Learning activity is a lack of class cover to enable their release to participate. The question therefore arises as to where the time will come from to facilitate this support and training stage. As noted above, there requires to be adequate funding, together with a rationalisation of national priorities in light of the resource restrictions within the system, to enable these priorities to be operationally feasible to implement and, indeed, successful in achieving a positive outcome. 

As a UK organisation, we have also been involved in tackling bureaucracy and workload activity south of the border. The attached resources* further to that work may also therefore be of interest to Scottish Government in terms of adapting ideas for the Scottish context. 

Further to our correspondence of 14 June 2016, it is unfortunate that an extension to the deadline for our organisation’s response is not possible to enable us to provide a more detailed response to you at this time on this complex issue. However, we trust that the above information and resources are helpful in preparing your draft Delivery Plan before the summer, in conjunction with our consultation responses to Scottish Government to date which have also detailed our concerns on workload implications. 

We look forward to continuing to work with Scottish Government on education matters and look forward to receiving a copy of your draft Delivery Plan in due course. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if we can be of any further assistance in the interim.

Jennifer Barnes
Senior Professional Officer (Scotland)
Voice Scotland
Email: jenniferbarnes@voicetheunion.org.uk

* Resources (Department for Education (DfE))

Reducing teacher workload: Data Management Review Group report

Reducing teacher workload: Marking Policy Review Group  report

Reducing teacher workload: Planning and Resources Group  report


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