Report of the General Secretary - Congress 2017 #SSTA17

‘Put pupils first – give teachers time to teach!’

The theme of our Congress is ‘Put pupils first – give teachers time to teach!’

This is what SSTA members stood together and pushed for in our struggle against teacher and pupil workload in our ballot in the autumn of 2016.

An excellent return in the ballot with a 91% vote in favour of taking ‘Action Short of Strike Action’ with a 40.8% turnout. This was not an easy decision for SSTA members to take. I am proud to say, their pupils and their pride in education is always their priority.

Why do teachers drag themselves into schools when they are unwell, put up with poor wages, lack of a professional career structure, teacher shortages, work long hours, endure ever decreasing support and resources, put their health, families and relationships at risk?

I will tell you why? Because teachers care and despite all the changes, new initiatives and whims of politicians, teachers try to make it work for the benefit of the pupils in their classrooms, because they only get one chance.

So I say congratulations to you for sticking together and challenging the pressures applied to you by supporting our industrial action. The battle is not over and there is a good distance to cover. But we will succeed because we have to. If we don’t, we would be failing the pupils we care for most and our cherished education service.

The way teachers are treated is nothing less than systematic abuse. Unfortunately, this is not confined to Scotland but is a similar picture for teachers across the world. We need to bring to an end to this teacher abuse and ensure that teachers are valued and rewarded for the important role that they play in the lives of our young people.

The First Minister has pledged to put education at the heart of her government's programme for the year ahead.

"Education is at the heart of our plans and I am committed to doing all I can to improve the life chances of every child and young person.

"Ensuring children are able to learn in new, modern, fit for purpose surroundings is a crucial part of this.

"By the end of this parliament we will have delivered 112 new or refurbished schools across every local authority in Scotland - more than double the number envisaged when the schools for the future programme started."

But without a valued professional teacher in every classroom, and without education support staff and resources, her best intentions cannot and will not be delivered. Whether the First minister likes it or not the teacher in the classroom is the first and most important education resource.


Teacher Workload

The SSTA industrial action began on 24 October 2016to give teachers back control of their time and we needed the ballot to give security to our members in schools. Teachers need to focus on teaching and learning, and put to one side those duties and tasks that do not help the teacher in the classroom. We are making progress. More and more of our members are saying NO or more politely ‘thank you very much for your kind offer of more work but I will decline the offer on this occasion’.

The SSTA has campaigned for a number of years to reduce teacher workload in all aspects of a teacher’s work but especially in the senior phase. The SSTA asked for a more measured implementation of the new national qualifications but the government moved forward regardless.

It came as no surprise to SSTA members that the accountability and micromanagement systems contained within the National Qualifications forced teachers and pupils to breaking point.

However, there is no satisfaction in knowing you were right all along. It is so important to listen to the teachers in the classroom, not to give importance to the views of those not involved in the ‘day to day’ business of teaching. Those who actually do the job. The SSTA represents the views of teachers at all levels in secondary schools and should be listened to.

The Deputy First Minister said last year in relation to the changes to National 5

“This will help to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers and learners. It is not enough to have good teachers if they do not have the time and space to do their job. That is why groups like this are essential to help us strip away anything that creates unnecessary workload for the profession”-

The SSTA survey on National 5 changes, conducted in early February highlighted the increases in workload across all subjects. Teachers were told to expect changes to Assessment arrangements but not to course content. As we all know the changes announced in the last few weeks will again increase workload with the courses in many school already begun, without time to consider and implement the changes.

Unfortunately, I can predict, with the rush to make changes we will find that the SSTA was right again but the powers that be do not always want to hear.

The Deputy First Minister told us at our Council meeting back in October that he wanted to reduce teacher workload and has taken steps to bring about change. But change in education, as we know, does take time and longer than the six months the Minister asked for.

As for other measures taken by the Deputy First Minister to reduce teacher workload

Education Scotland conducted a Local Authority Review on Tackling Workload and made a statement on Broad General Education.

Inspectors looked at: what support and guidance for schools and teachers the local authority had in place; what the local authority required schools and teachers to do; and any specific guidance the local authority had provided on how to reduce bureaucracy/workload. Some of our District Secretaries didn’t recognise their local authorities from the report.

The Deputy First Minister expected a positive response from SSTA but the SSTA Survey at the time showed 68% of SSTA members said the document would not have an impact in reducing teacher workload. A further 14% said the document would actually increase their workload. The over-riding view is that it would have little impact in Secondary Schools.

The inspection of Local Authorities needs to be followed-up with further action to be taken. I am not sure if that was ever intended. The review must not be just left on the shelf like other well-meaning documents.


Bench Marks

The Bench Marks for all curriculum areas were published in March. The lack of ‘meaningful consultation’ is a concern to us but they have been mostly welcomed by secondary teachers. However, the usual rule applies: ‘Just give it to teachers and they will make it work’. They have been rushed through without any time given for teachers and departments to be consulted with, or time to understand and implement into existing courses. Again, another good intended action but without a teacher workload assessment being undertaken.

Standardised Assessment

These tests for children in P1, P4, P7 and S3 will take place next year covering reading, writing and numeracy. The online tests will take 50 minutes, they will not be marked by teachers and there will be no pass or fail. The assessments will be completed online and automatically marked by the online system. The Scottish government said the information produced by the tests would help teachers raise attainment amongst schoolchildren.

Again training time for managing the tests and using the evidence produced has not been allocated and it will be left for the teacher to undertake in their own time.

It is interesting that this method of assessment together with the teachers professional judgment is sufficient for pupils up to S3 but not been considered for pupils in S4. Most pupils stay in education beyond S4 yet we persist with an archaic over burdensome, damaging to pupils and a totally unnecessary SQA system for pupils in S4. My advice to the Minister is to reduce teacher workload and pupil stress by finding a better way for continuous assessment in the senior phase.

The bottom line is that the SSTA industrial action guidance is quite clear: if you are not allocated time within the schools Working Time Agreement then the work cannot be done.

The teacher shortage

Teacher recruitment is an increasing problem across Scotland and will have a damaging impact on the students and teachers in the long-term. Teachers are ‘papering over the cracks’ and trying to keep the system afloat. All available teacher time is being used to continue the service. Many teachers with management and specialist roles in the school are being used to cover classes due to the lack of supply, particularly subject-specific supply. These teachers are being abused by the education system.

Our recent Survey of school reps showed

  • 81% of main scale teachers were being timetable up to the maximum 22.5 hours a week
  • 37% of principal Teachers were being timetabled between 20 and the maximum 22.5 hours a week
  • 41% of teachers were covering 3 hours or more a week
  • 67% of schools found it very difficult to get supply teachers

Measures used by schools to manage the teacher shortage

  • 28% of schools regularly split National Qualification classes with 44% occasionally
  • 21% of schools regularly collapsed classes with 40% doing so occasionally
  • 12% regularly left senior classes unsupervised with a further 30% doing so occasionally
  • 7% of schools regularly gathered classes together in a hall or sports hall with a further 25% doing so occasionally
  • 5% of teachers were regularly taking classes above timetable allocation with a further 33% doing so occasionally

The failure to provide supply teachers and fill vacancies promptly is often seen as an attempt by local authorities to save money. However, this is a false economy as when teacher workload increases; teacher stress increases, teacher absence also increases.

The GTCS found in 2016 there were 861 lapsed teachers aged 21-45. It sought reasons why teachers were leaving the register. The GTCS found

14.5% cited change in family circumstances

- Some teachers need to stop or reduce their work for a period of time, for example to care for children or elderly relatives, but this can be difficult to quantify and manage.  Few employers, if any, now offer teachers job share opportunities which were seen by many as a great way of working in a family friendly way.  Although many local authorities claim to be 'family friendly,' the reality is that it is much harder to work around an employer than a job share partner.  Working part-time can be a solution, but teachers I have spoken to tell me that even working 3 days a week results is what many would consider a full time job.

12% were taking a career break

- Although some employers offer career breaks on paper, often they can be reluctant to actually grant them in practice, particularly for promoted teachers.   I know of cases where the employer has asked those seeking career breaks to resign, which in my view is short sighted and lacking an understanding of the benefits a well-planned career break can bring to the teacher (eg time for reflection), to their pupils (eg enhanced experience), to colleagues (eg opportunities for temporary promotion) and to the employer (eg opportunities for staff development).

10.4% cited high workloads

- Workload is widely regarded to be at an unsustainable level and is impacting on the mental health and wellbeing of the whole school community.  Some teachers are unwilling to continue to put their health at risk.

12% had changed career

- Teachers have wide-ranging skills and good qualifications which are relevant to many careers as well as education.  In some cases they are choosing to use their skills and qualifications elsewhere.

12.9% were unable to secure a job in Scotland

- Being on a supply register for an extended period or on a temporary contract can present budgeting difficulties and can make it hard to arrange loans and mortgages.   Despite being qualified to teach, it is understandable that some teachers prefer to find non-teaching employment which offers regular pay and career progression rather than hanging about waiting for a teaching job.

13.2% had gone to teach abroad

- Some teachers are attracted to better salaries and working conditions on offer in other countries.  Working abroad offers a different perspective and opens up different opportunities. Often to raise a deposit for a home back in Scotland.

5% had decided teaching wasn't for them.

- It is inevitable that some people will not find teaching to their liking.  Teaching is a bit like being a performer for several hours a day with a very critical audience which does not hesitate to make its feelings known.  There are other jobs which have different demands.


The Teacher is the key to Scotland’s Future

The Scottish Government is determined to bring about improvements in Education by ‘closing the attainment gap’ and give all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential. The focus must be on the teacher/pupil relationship and how the structures in and outside the school are developed to support this relationship is an important element in ‘closing the attainment gap’.

The Teacher in the Classroom

The subject teacher in a secondary school focuses on establishing the relationship with the pupils. Whilst planning, preparing, delivering and assessing the lesson the teacher also assesses the pupil progress and identifies strengths and weaknesses. The teacher uses their professional judgement and builds on this knowledge in future lessons.

  • We need teachers to focus on teaching and learning with a reduction of other tasks
  • With the demands placed on teachers today we need a reduction in the 22.5 hours teaching week
  • With the nature of our curriculum and changes to methods of teaching more subjects need to be recognised as ‘practical’ and in turn benefit pupils by being in smaller classes

The Subject Specialist

The Principal Teacher of subject in the past was a great strength of the Scottish Education system. Unfortunately, due to changes in schools’ management structures over a number of years, the Principal Teacher of subject has been in steady decline. Most schools today do not have a teacher in the school responsible for keeping abreast of subject developments and acting as the leader and manager of a number of subject teachers.

It is unreasonable to expect all subject teachers in a large department, at the same level, to accept responsibility and carry out this function independently. To develop the subject expertise, encourage leadership and rationalise workload there is a need to see a return to the subject specialist in secondary schools. Please also note that in 2010 the Chartered Teacher scale was brought to a close.

  • We need recognition and reward of experienced teacher of subjects and a real and meaningful extension to the existing teacher main pay scale

The Management Structure

There has been a conscious move in many local authorities to move away from principal teacher of subjects to a faculty structure across the school. The appointment of a senior principal teacher to manage a number of subjects is a sensible way forward and gives the teacher a more senior responsibility. This experience enables the post holder to progress to a more senior position in the school.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the teacher, in addition to managing a number of departments, is given a range of ‘whole school’ responsibilities. The impact of these additional responsibilities moves the teacher further away from the departments they were appointed to manage, without the support of senior teacher of subjects.

In 2010 there were 8,216 promoted posts in secondary schools and in 2016 the number fell to 6,758, a loss of 1,458 posts or 18% of promoted posts.

At the same time the number of teachers in secondary schools fell from 24,776 to 22,957. That is a loss of 1,819 teaching posts.

As promoted teachers left a school the posts went with them. The only reason was to cut money and increase the workload of those left behind.

The reduced management structure has created a ‘major’ step from being a subject teacher to a principal teacher managing a number of subjects. This step is viewed by most teachers as a ‘step too far’. There are very few opportunities for teachers to gain experience to enable them to move into middle leadership positions. The main focus of the principal teacher who manages a number of subject areas is supporting teaching and learning in those areas.

As for teachers who undertake a range of ‘whole school responsibilities,’ these should be accommodated within a more senior position in the school and seen as a ‘stepping stone’ to gain knowledge and experience before aspiring to become a depute headteacher.

  • The priority of the principal teacher who manages a number of subject areas is supporting teaching and learning in those areas.
  • We need the establishment of management posts that manage a number of ‘whole school’ responsibilities
  • And crucially we demand that Depute and Headteachers have manageable, not unmanageable posts with appropriate additional support inside and outside the school.


The Teacher Retention and Recruitment Crisis

Scotland is facing a deepening crisis in retaining and recruiting teachers and headteachers in its schools. The Scottish Government needs to acknowledge that teachers working conditions and remuneration have failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing education environment. Schools and teachers needs to adapt to meet the demands of a modern education system.

As a consequence teaching is increasingly perceived as an unattractive profession with an impossible workload demand, restricted career path and an uncompetitive salary scale.  Addressing the structure of schools and its workforce are essential elements in the Scottish Government challenge to ‘close the attainment gap’.


The Teacher Career Structure

The removal of the Chartered Teacher scale (originally intended to keep good teachers in the classroom) has created a ‘glass ceiling’ that new teachers reach relatively quickly. There is little opportunity for advancement which is creating a problem in keeping and motivating these teachers in the profession.

The numbers of posts of responsibility have reduced by nearly 1:5 over six years this has closed down the opportunities for teachers to gain experience, responsibility, career advancement and incentives to remain in teaching.

The normal promotional ladder expects classroom teachers to become principal teacher managing a number of departments without any subject management experience. Once promoted to principal teacher, managing a number of departments, the next move is to the post of depute headteacher.

  • 38% of Principal Teachers were given between 2 and 3 hours management time per week with a further 18% being given no management time to undertake the responsibility
  • 21% of Depute Headteachers were being timetabled for 5 or more hours per week. Whilst 29% of Deputes had no timetabled teaching commitment
  • 24% of Headteachers had a timetabled up to 4 hours a week

The only other way to get promotion is through the pastoral and pupil support route but unfortunately this has limited posts of responsibility and increasingly unmanageable workload. An inappropriate Job Sizing Toolkit that does not recognise the remit of the job does not help.

The difficulties in recruiting new headteachers reflects the unmanageability of the post and the reluctance from experienced depute headteachers who have identified the scale of the problem.

  • A need for a career structure that gives opportunities to gain experience and responsibility across the education system that recognises the long-term commitment of the teacher


Teacher Salaries (the facts)

The salary scales for teachers and headteachers have become uncompetitive and do not recognise the value, commitment and importance of the teacher workforce in Scotland.

An unpromoted teacher at the top of the main scale has a salary of £35,763 (point 6). Due the removal of the Charter teacher scale the teacher could have reached a salary of £43,845 (a difference of £8,028).

An unpromoted teacher in England at the top of the upper pay spine has a salary of £38,250 (a difference of £2,487). An unpromoted FE Lecturer in Scotland, following the pay agreement, can reach a salary of  £40,026 (a difference of £4,263).

A headteacher in Scotland can aspire to a maximum salary of £86,319 whilst a headteacher in England outside of London can aspire to a maximum salary of £108,283 (a difference of £21,964). Are the jobs £21,964 different? Of course they are not

  • We need a salary scale that is competitive and crucially retains the teachers we have and also inspires recruits into teachers

The Governance Review

The Deputy First Minister has said he intends to move forward with reforms

The SSTA supports the Government’s determination to bring about improvements in Education by ‘closing the attainment gap’ and giving all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

SSTA would argue for a process of review followed by improvements rather than major structural change. The SSTA believe that structural change only diverts energies and resources away from the main challenge of ‘closing the attainment gap’.

The Government has chosen to use its ‘Governance Review’ as the vehicle to look at the agencies and structures involved in education to ‘empower teachers, parents and communities to achieve excellence and equity in education’.

Unfortunately this review does not include the people and the structures in the school that support teaching and learning.

The SSTA believes that the Government needs to place the pupil/teacher relationship at the centre – this relationship and how we best support it is the paramount consideration. Structure is only important insofar as they support and nurture teaching and learning in the pupil/teacher relationship.

I will focus my comments on just three areas

1) Local Authorities

The Local Authority is the management arm of the education system. It is in the interest of the community that all young people reach their full potential. As the elected representative of the community that the Local Authority is the body that needs to play its role in supporting the learning taking place in schools and, where necessary, seek improvement. It is essential that local schools feel part of the community. The direction of the school should be determined by the community that is able to see the long term plan and benefits.

The Local Authority should be the focus for parents, colleges, universities and local employers to better support efforts to raise attainment of all young people. Schools alone are unable to see the complete picture and therefore must work in partnership with Local Authorities to meet the needs of all young people.

The Local Authorities have the ability to bring together all local services to support pupils and their families in their journey through school. The Local Authority should play an important part in removing burdens and obstacles from teachers and headteachers and allow them to exert all their energies on learning.

As there is a growing recruitment crisis for head teacher and deputy posts, further devolving of powers to headteachers is another burden on the professionals and will merely exacerbate the recruitment situation.  In some respect, this step would be regarded as adding to bureaucracy, rather than improving education outcomes for children and young people. The priority should be to identify those tasks that can be taken away from teachers and headteachers and undertaken more efficiently by those more suitable and qualified within the Local Authority.

Local Authorities should be bringing schools together by building upon the natural school clusters. This includes primary, secondary and colleges as well as schools within the same sector and across Local Authority boundaries with similar challenges. The Local Authority should be managing all education staff across the Authority building capacity and ensuring all young people in every school have access to the best experienced teachers and support systems.

Creating new education regions would just create more bureaucracy. This would undermine the role of the Local Authority by putting additional unwanted pressure, responsibility and bureaucracy on teachers and headteachers in schools.

Local Authorities have an important role in retaining, recruiting and managing all education staff. Decentralising these functions to the schools just adds more bureaucracy and takes the focus away from teaching and learning. Local authorities need to collaborate across Authority boundaries to ensure there are a sufficient number of teachers, headteachers and supply teachers in our schools.

The Local Authority needs to identify and create opportunities for all teachers to reach their full potential whether in the classroom or in management positions in schools. Good examples of collaboration would be a national supply teacher register, a joint recruitment strategy, developing leadership programmes, and a national professional development network for all education staff.

2) Education Scotland

Education Scotland should be the implementation arm of the Scottish Government.

Education Scotland should be the driving force for curriculum development and excellence. It should see itself as responsible and accountable for the delivery of the curriculum in every school. Education Scotland should not be independent of the schools and Local Authorities but working in partnership with and be responsible for the education in our schools.

The SSTA would recommend that the Inspectorate focus its efforts on Local Authorities rather than schools. Local Authorities should be the driving force for excellence in schools for all young people. The Inspectorate should seek naturally occurring evidence in the schools to support the work of the Local Authorities.

Local Authorities should be responsible for managing, challenging, supporting and developing schools. The Inspectorate focus on individual schools has created barriers to collaboration across schools and the sharing experiences and expertise that are to the detriment of the system.

3) Fair Funding or just spreading the existing money in different directions

The Government wishes to establish a fair and transparent needs-based funding formula for schools and make sure that more money goes direct to headteachers.

This issue is a constant headache as a formula based on Free School Meals alone cannot guarantee that the money goes where it’s needed. It would be far better to trust the judgement of the teachers, the professionals in the classrooms, to identify the need of every individual young person. The challenge would be for Government to meet this need with the appropriate resource.

Fair Funding or further delegation to schools can only work when ‘new’ money is made available. There will always be winners and losers in this type of reform and those you intend to benefit rarely do. New money is needed to give all young people the same life chances.

Education International has stated there is a need to establish, support and promote Global Guidelines for Establishing Teacher-led Professional Teaching Standards.

Education International asserted that enabling professional space and time for educators and educational support personnel is a precondition for the successful implementation of such a framework.

Education reforms need to be contextually relevant and, therefore, education policy dialogue needs to start at the classroom level with education unions at the centre as social partners. Administrators and bureaucrats should be prevented from taking the lead in identifying education policy issues and new solutions. Those who do the work on the ground - teachers and education support personnel - need to be empowered and actively involved before, during and after changes to education policies.

The recent criticisms of our education system by our politicians following the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) and Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) are unfair and unnecessary.

It is worth remembering that these tests were not constructed to assess pupil progress in our Curriculum for Excellence. Nor do they take into account all the changes that teachers and pupils have had to endure in the education system over a long number of years. Never mind years and years of austerity measures (Cuts and more Cuts) to our schools and communities.

It is the responsibility of and the duty of our Government and politicians to defend our excellent education system and find solutions to the challenges we face together.

A message to our politicians. Please stop using education as a political football and using it as a way of scoring points against each other. It is unforgivable. Education is too important to play political games with and you do more damage to education and its image every time you run-down education.

Every time you run down and undermine education another young person chooses not to follow a career path into teaching and another group of teachers’ walks out the school gate.

It is now time for Government to invest in its teaching workforce. Not just by providing professional learning opportunities. Now is the time is to end austerity measures. Austerity policies are a political choice to reduce public services. It is time to move away the austerity mentality and invest in Education, invest in teachers, invest in Scotland’s young people and Scotland’s future.

It is time to Put Pupils First and Give Teachers Time to Teach



Further information from:

Seamus Searson
General Secretary