Teachers are “at the end of their tether” from the pressures of remote learning, and the government’s decision to order inspectors to evaluate the quality of online teaching will make the situation worse, union leaders have warned.
Holyrood’s Education Committee heard from teaching unions that remote learning has “pushed a lot of teachers to the edge” amid criticism of the government’s announcement that Education Scotland would begin inspections.
MSPs were also told that the longer schools were closed the less likely teachers would be able to effectively assess pupils’ performance and estimate grades in the absence of exams.
Seamus Searson, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “We’ve been inundated with members contacting us with what they believe is impossible demands being placed upon them, to try and meet the expectations of parents, pupils and politicians.
“I just think that we need to be realistic in what we expect of teachers during this period of time.
“We need to continue the engagement of pupils in education, not try to continue as if everything was normal and expect the same outcomes.
“We haven’t been normal since last March, but we do need to have a breathing space in this to actually try and support and encourage teachers to keep doing the excellent job that they’re doing, and not trying to undermine them and double guess them at every opportunity, which appears to be the atmosphere that lots of teachers are reporting back to us.”
Secondary school teacher and NASUWT union representative Richard Bell added: “It really has taken a toll.
“I think it’s something that we need to bear in mind for the long, long-term sustainability of education and also for the workforce in teaching.
“They must be exhausted and demoralised at this stage, and potentially we are only at the beginning of it.”
Urging the government to try and recruit as many additional school staff as possible, the general secretary of the EIS teaching union, Larry Flanagan, said: “We still have members who have been seeking supply work across the country, and finding it difficult.
“I think every teacher who is available for work should have been signed up to be in schools.”
He added: “If we’ve got 2000 teachers looking for work, there should be 2000 teachers being employed.
“Because we need all hands on deck, in relation to coping with the situation and trying to carve out additional support for the children who are most disadvantaged.”
During a second evidence session, the chief executive of the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA), Fiona Robertson, said the exam board was working alongside the government and other education groups to establish another grading system to replace exams.
Asked about the concerns of teachers and pupils about the uncertainty about assessments in the committee’s second evidence session, Ms Robertson said the qualification group was working “at pace” to come up with guidance for schools and pupils about the new model.
Ms Robertson told MSPs that the SQA will “strip back in the assessment requirements for each course” and said: “We’ve done as much as we can to provide guidance and support to the system in what is obviously a challenging and fluid situation.”
Challenged about the apparent failure to produce contingency plans this year if there were more lockdowns and school closures, Ms Robertson said the exam board had to “remain agile”.
She added: “We’re going to have to continue to be fleet-of-foot around a number of different scenarios which could play out, depending on public health advice.”