Items and actions
Teacher Panel members were welcomed to the meeting and apologies given on behalf of those unable to attend.
The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (DFM) described the issue of teacher workload as a perennial challenge. His work now centres on building the confidence of teachers who should feel confident enough to ask themselves ‘Does what I’m doing make a difference?’. If the answer is ‘no’, they should stop doing it.
A number of points were raised by panel members including:
- Teachers are worried about getting things wrong, and subsequently getting things wrong for their pupils.
- The current culture has grown over many years and as such it is difficult to change it. An empowered system will take time, and only once the profession is empowered can workload be tackled.
- Teachers lack the confidence to take leaps in their work. There is also a lot of bureaucracy, particularly in the senior phase.
- When Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) began it was difficult to monitor the hundreds of Es and Os that were in existence. However teachers are now more adept at deciding what’s important, so although the workload issue still exists the situation has improved.
- A lot of things were done by the profession because they felt it was the right thing to do e.g. reporting to parents. Teachers now realise these tasks are unnecessary but it is difficult to draw back from carrying them out – they contribute to the workload but do not need to be there.
DFM broached the subject of tracking levels which should help to identify when support is needed to help improvement in learning. DFM also highlighted that if the profession is having a discussion about improvement, teachers need to have the confidence and resources to achieve such improvement.
Panel members raised several points including:
- There is a presumption of mainstreaming, where all teachers are educating all pupils. However there has been a distinct shift over recent years and not all schools have an ASN unit – teachers have not had these concerns before.
- The CAMHS system causes the greatest frustration – it needs to be streamlined. We are struggling to get things right for some children because they are yet to be diagnosed, something that can take years to do. Not only are the effects on those children huge, but also the consequences for their peers, teachers and families.
- It is possible to deal with ASN pupils in primary schools, but when they reach high school it can be very difficult to meet their needs.
DFM agreed that the length of time taken to diagnose some children is unacceptable, stating that it is difficult to scale-up in a short space of time. Although the presentation of cases is being speeded up the current system can lead to workload issues e.g. due to complaints from parents. It is hoped that the integration of mental health counsellors into schools will remove some of the pressure on the system.
DFM went on to consider pupil empowerment, stating the importance of pupils doing things that motivate and interest them. It is vital that children and young people are engaged and interested in their learning.
Panel members provided a number of observations:
- A wide range of SQA qualifications are available but the difficulty arises in that some of these are only available after S5 – there are mandatory subjects prior to this stage which can lead to disengagement before S4.
- Staff in the secondary sector feel more comfortable in the senior phase. CfE has allowed them to review their practice and as such this phase now looks much better than it did five years ago. Staff are happy with the structure and understand the senior phase is all about qualifications for the next level beyond school.
DFM disagreed with the latter point. He believes that the senior phase is all about pathways and outcomes rather than qualifications. For some young people, meeting their needs will be about ensuring that they have the right Highers to get into university or college, but for others it will be about finding what will get them onto the right pathway for their desired outcome.
OECD Review of Curriculum for Excellence
The discussion moved onto the second agenda item, with DFM stating his hope that the review offers an opportunity to think about the next stage of curriculum development. Four key areas are currently in dispute:
- whether to make judgements on pupils in S4 or at the end of senior phase
- prescription versus flexibility
- knowledge versus skills
- where is the BGE?
DFM stated that the BGE must be demanding, engaging, broad, personalised and act as a platform across the eight curricular areas.
A number of points were raised by panel members, including:
- School inspections are changing in that they are not now solely focused on a school’s attainment but upon its ethos. It is ultimately the media that judges schools on attainment levels.
- The profession is hoping for honesty in the review. S3 should not be the beginning or end of anything, but a continuation of learning. The review should enable a discussion on what BGE is about and what it delivers. BGE provides an opportunity to hook pupils and interest them in learning.
- In an ideal world primary schools would provide richness and engagement, and at the end of P7 pupils would know where their interests lie.
- Secondary schools need to work more closely with primary schools. What happens in primary is not necessarily followed-up in the transition to secondary school.
- Too much of what young people spend their time on in school will have little influence on what they go on to do in the future. What happens to those children who don’t have parents who guide them and help them to think things through?
DFM reflected that the OECD review encourages the teaching profession to engage in a reasoned debate, and that teachers should be able to populate and influence the review. Furthermore the OECD must appreciate teachers’ expertise and understanding.
DFM thanked attendees for their input and noted that the next meeting of the panel would be in June 2020.