Items and actions
Teacher Panel members were welcomed to the meeting and apologies given on behalf of those unable to attend.
John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (DFM), began proceedings by reflecting on the two agenda items: the re-opening of schools following lockdown; and the 2021 exam diet.
The Education Recovery Phase and the re-opening of schools
DFM stated that the re-opening of schools has been relatively successful, with attendance rates amongst pupils of 92-93%. The Covid-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG) is monitoring data on a weekly basis to assess both pupil and teacher attendance levels. Covid-related absence levels amongst teaching staff are currently at 2%, which is encouraging given the challenging circumstances.
Feedback from head teachers confirms that they have faced considerable operational challenge in the delivery of education, largely due to the number of daily practicalities involved. Despite that, however, head teachers have managed to keep schools open on a constant basis.
DFM feels that the return has been very well handled in spite of the challenges faced. There is some concern that Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs) have been more focused on operational challenges than teaching/learning challenges, so the CERG is exploring ways of providing more support to SLTs. There has been good, active engagement from the EIS, School Leaders Scotland etc.
A number of comments were made by panel members including:
- the first couple of weeks were extremely challenging, and teachers saw the consequences of pupils being out of school for five months – some relationships were a little tense but things are now more back to normal. Colleagues have found some things difficult, particularly the inability to share messages at assemblies as normal. One member of teaching staff has been taken out of their teaching role and is instead undertaking an enhanced wellbeing role in order to help those pupils who struggled during lockdown
- although staff are comfortable being back at school, there is some anxiety around safe systems of working. IT provision is proving to be an issue due to equipment being used to support more vulnerable pupils – this means that it is being taken away from other pupils. The school is not used to delivering virtual whole-school assemblies and staff meetings, so this has been a steep learning curve – a forthcoming in-service day will be used to improve the skills of staff
- it has taken some time for pupils to adjust to the new safety measures that are now in place. A lot of time has been spent monitoring staggered lunches, arrivals etc. and as such some schools have revisited timetables to take this into account. A number of schools have been able to use additional staff in order to reduce class sizes
- in the early stages of primary school there were substantial gaps in literacy and numeracy development depending on what happened at home during lockdown. There is now a large focus on outdoor learning, with some schools using PEF funding to employ the skills of former outdoor education centre staff members. They are able to advise schools on the best use of their outdoor spaces
- although most pupils are now very settled, there are some who are still in a crisis situation due to their negative experiences during lockdown. Some children have ‘absolutely flown’ since returning to school, but others have struggled. Schools are trying to re-imagine the way they operate things such as eco and pupil voice groups, and are working out how to carry on such groups digitally
- pupils are being encouraged to talk about their covid-related concerns
- following initial assessments we have noticed that some EAL pupils have regressed in their language. We are monitoring this and hope that being back in school will bring them back to their previous levels
- senior phase pupils are aware that they may receive predicted grades next week, and because of this they are working very hard
DFM asked the Teacher Panel how challenging schools would find it if there was a need to move to blended learning. Comments from panel members included the following:
- we are more prepared now than ever before. There are logistical challenges however, as not all schools will be in receipt of additional IT equipment. Many schools have detailed contingency plans in place and can support pupils in a more meaningful fashion. It is the children ‘in the middle’ who are often of concern in that they do not receive extra support. Local authorities have good plans in place i.e. they already have teams set up to support blended learning. Some faculties would happily move to a blended model for the senior phase now given that it would be more natural to do so because of the age group and nature of learning
- if we were to move towards a blended learning model, it would be helpful to have a local authority or Scottish Government direction on whether schools should use a particular rotation model
- good preparations have been made for blended learning – we have a plan in place and our pupils are trained up. Following feedback from both pupils and parents during lockdown, our school has chosen one digital platform (Microsoft Teams) and all of our pupils are set up with that. Health and wellbeing and lessons are currently being delivered via Teams, so that will transition well if blended learning is necessary
SQA results 2020 and awarding 2021
DFM moved discussions onto the second agenda item. He reflected on the 2020 SQA results, SQA consideration of assessing the national qualifications in 2021 and the outcome of the Priestley review.
DFM addressed the significant speculation in the media regarding the running of National 5 exams, but stressed that this was just one option currently being looked at. He is conscious of the need for both an approach that does not add to teacher workload and that provides clarity to staff and learners about what needs to be undertaken during the remainder of the school year. DFM stated that he hopes to make an announcement on 6 October.
A number of comments were provided by Teacher Panel members, including the following:
- while teachers understand that it is difficult to make a decision, time is marching on. We are currently running two systems, preparing for both examinations and teacher assessments. Pupils are trusting us to get things right for them. Staff are concerned about the levels of disruption to learning and mental health anxiety – some pupils are struggling
- for many teachers their preference would be to dispense with National 5 exams but retain those for Higher and Advanced Higher. If that was the chosen option staff would prioritise the Higher/Advanced Higher exams due to the need to gather robust assessment evidence
- some teachers feel that the profession is able to deliver National 5 qualifications without an external exam. A by-product of this would be that it creates parity with National 3 and National 4 qualifications, something teachers have been grappling with for some time
DFM asked the panel what issues would be likely to arise if teachers had to gather information and evidence to support Higher and Advanced Higher decision making.
Panel members provided the following contributions:
- a number of teachers are concerned that if pupils do not sit National 5 exams next year, their first experience of sitting an exam in a hall may not be until they sit their Highers. How would teachers prepare their pupils for that?
- if exams are not the way forward then robust procedures will be key. While our estimates this year were spot-on and results were in line with those of previous years, this was because many hours were spent ensuring that we got it right and did not over-inflate estimated results – our message to staff was about accountability
- if the decision is to go with assessments only, allowances have to be made for ‘outlying’ schools i.e. those without a track record. However, the positive aspect is that if the decision is made now, we have time to prepare and do things properly
- the profession is set up to support robust quality assurance. We have the Regional Improvement Collaboratives in place and the inspectorate has committed to no inspections, therefore we have the capacity. It would be helpful to have a clear set of procedures in place to help teachers ascertain predicted grades. The National 5 is a ‘building block’ qualification, so its removal would be challenging
DFM thanked the panel for the important points made. He stressed the need to be fair to all learners in light of this year’s interruption, and confirmed that whatever approach is chosen it must encourage learners.
DFM drew the meeting to a close and thanked the panel members for their contributions.
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