Covid Scotland: Teacher survey sparks fears over strain on schools

There are growing fears over a “rising tide” of Covid-related strain on Scottish teachers after a survey found nearly nine in ten saw their workload increase during the pandemic.

The EIS union, which carried out the study, warned the demands of online learning, meeting additional support needs (ASN) and managing pupil behaviour had added significantly to workload pressures in the last 12 months.

It comes as staff absences increase due to the Omicron variant’s rapid spread.

Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said: “Teachers have continued to face a rising tide of workload throughout the pandemic, for a wide range of reasons.

“Clearly, changes brought about in response to the pandemic have had an impact on teacher workload with additional tasks requiring to be undertaken on a daily basis to help keep classrooms safe.”

READ MORE: Teachers union call for delayed school return

The online survey of more than 16,000 teachers found the vast majority (93%) work above their contracted hours each week, with 45% of full-time staff reporting they work more than eight extra hours every week.

Almost nine in 10 respondents (88%) said their workload had grown during the pandemic, with 61% reporting that the increase was significant.

Many members highlighted that moving to remote or blended learning created a considerable amount of additional work as everything had to be made accessible online while schools were closed, or when pupils were absent.

And more than six in 10 (61%) said ASN responsibilities, including mental health support, had added in a major way to their workload.

Mr Flanagan said: “The increased emphasis on digital learning – be that in the classroom or remotely from home – has created challenges for teachers, often associated with a lack of suitable equipment and resources.

“Teachers are also reporting a significant amount of time dealing with pupil behaviour as many young people continue the struggle to overcome the negative impact of the pandemic on their lives.”

HeraldScotland: EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan is concerned.EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan is concerned.

EIS members said sanitising workspaces and ensuring all Covid mitigations are followed often disrupted lessons and added to their workload. Some noted contact from parents had grown, creating even more pressure.

Among secondary school teachers, members reported that the Alternative Certification Model – brought in when exams were cancelled due to the pandemic – significantly increased their workload in comparison with a normal year. More than nine in 10 (93%) noted an increase, with 80% saying it was significant.

Mr Flanagan said: “In addition to the challenges of keeping up to date with Government Covid safety protocols, which affect all teachers, teachers in secondary schools face additional difficulties with Scottish Qualifications Authority-related workload.

“The challenges brought about by short-notice changes to the qualifications system have been a major driver in additional workload over the past two years for secondary teachers.

“Meaningful reform of the examinations system is now required to ease the workload burden of teachers and students alike.”

READ MORE: SNP ministers told to ‘do everything possible’ to keep schools open as Omicron cases surge

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Teachers have been outstanding throughout the pandemic and we can’t thank them enough. We are committed to reducing teachers’ class contact time by 90 minutes per week to give them more time to plan and ease their workload.

“In the last year we have invested over £2 million in supporting teacher wellbeing with a package of support, developed in conjunction with the Education Recovery Group. We have provided £240 million of additional investment since the start of the pandemic, specifically for the recruitment of more education staff.”

He said figures published in December showed that teacher numbers have increased for the sixth year in a row, rising to 54,285 in 2021.

He added: “There are now over 2,000 more teachers than before the start of the pandemic in 2019, and more teachers than at any time since 2008. The ratio of pupils to teachers is at its lowest since 2009.”

HeraldScotland: Willie Rennie said the teaching workforce had faced an "incredibly demanding" set of challenges.Willie Rennie said the teaching workforce had faced an “incredibly demanding” set of challenges.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Willie Rennie said: “Teachers have been faced with an incredibly demanding set of challenges which have frequently changed and often with little notice.

“Their response has been remarkable and parents have discovered a new-found admiration for the work of teachers.

“In return for that huge effort, political and education leaders must listen to teachers and respond with improvements such as stripping out the standardised assessments and school league tables, improve ventilation, improved pay, employ on permanent contracts the many teachers without work or those on temporary contracts, and put teachers in charge of education reforms.”

READ MORE: What is the current Covid guidance for Scotland’s schools?

Scottish Labour education spokesman Michael Marra said: “Scotland’s teachers have bailed out the disastrous decision-making of Scottish Government education ministers time and again throughout the pandemic.

“They have gone above and beyond their contracts month after month. They are exhausted.

“The scale of the challenge ahead of our teachers must urgently be recognised by ministers.

“Recent evidence shows that the pandemic has led to a huge loss in attainment that must be addressed if this generation of young people are not to carry the scars of the pandemic through their lives.

“A pay rise, rather than a real terms pay cut, must just be the start of a true education comeback plan for Scotland. The SNP Government must acknowledge the scale of the challenge in our schools.”

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