Union anger over government teacher panel with just three teachers

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A 17-strong panel set up to advise ministers on teachers has been slammed – because it only has three unpromoted classroom teachers.

Education secretary John Swinney set up the panel in the summer of 2016 to advise on reducing curriculum workload.

But unions have complained after it emerged the panel is made up of nine headteachers, two deputies, three principal teachers – and just three teachers from the “chalkface”.

Teaching unions claim the panel will simply tell the Scottish Government the “right things” and not provide “dissenting voices”.

Scotland’s 51,000 state school teachers are facing high stress levels, with information published by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) suggesting most are working 11 hours more than their contract stipulates.

More than one million teaching days were lost to illness in Scotland’s schools between 2013 and 2015.

The membership of the panel was determined by schools watchdog Education for Scotland, along with the Scottish College for Educational Leadership.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association said:

“These people are headteachers, or want to be heads. The people put forward will say the right things. They will not be dissenting voices.

“One mistake the system makes is it believes headteachers represent their staff. They don’t – they represent themselves and, in many cases, they don’t understand the issues because they are not doing it, day in day out.”

EIS Assistant Secretary Andrea Bradley added: “We need to remember that classroom teachers are at the sharp end. They can determine if a particular policy is realising its aims, or whether practical matters or issues are getting in the way.

“Decisions made by headteachers or local authorities may not be in the best interests of learning and teaching, and can be made for more bureaucratic reasons, and [the] teacher voice needs to be stronger to challenge that.”

The three teachers on the panel are Jenny Kerr, a teacher at Craigdhu Primary School in East Dumbartonshire, Lynne Doyle, of St Flannan’s Primary School, also East Dumbartonshire, and Gareth Surgey, a technology teacher at Queen Anne High School in Fife.

Mr Surgey defended the panel, saying: “My experience of meeting with John Swinney is that – whether it’s the head of Scotland’s biggest secondary or a lowly techie like me – we are all speaking as educationalists.

“This notion that headteachers will be kowtowing to the Scottish government or only putting across their own point of view is befuddling to me, and it is not my experience of sitting on that committee.”

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “The Teacher Panel shares perspectives from primary, secondary and special schools from across Scotland with the Deputy First Minister.

“It is made up of people from various stages of their careers who have extensive experience in the classroom, including a mix of those from classroom or management roles.

“In addition to meeting with the Panel to discuss how to reduce workload and improve the education system the Deputy First Minister meets with teaching unions twice yearly and discusses these, and other issues, with individual teachers he meets during regular engagements throughout the year.”

The panel has met three times to date and intends to meet a further four times this year.

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