The crisis in Scotland’s classrooms has been laid bare by teachers’ accounts of assaults by pupils, children struggling with illiteracy and a curriculum that is “unfit” for purpose.
A series of anonymous letters from Scottish teachers has highlighted the “phenomenal” stress they are under trying to cope with a “shambolic” education system.
The letters, published on a newly created teachers’ website, also contain criticism of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her education secretary John Swinney, accusing them of failing to do enough to sort out Scotland’s schools.
The accounts of school life have been posted on the “Dear Madam President” website created by a group that includes Mark Wilson, a biology teacher at a Fife secondary school.
As revealed in The Scotsman last week, Mr Wilson has created the site to give teachers a forum to air their concerns anonymously so they avoid repercussions at work for putting their heads above the parapet. Mr Wilson said he had a “huge” number of supportive emails since the website was set up.
The criticism from teachers will increase the pressure on Ms Sturgeon, who has made education a key priority of her government, as well as Mr Swinney, who is attempting to reform the system.
A common theme for a number of the contributors was the challenge of teaching children with additional support needs (ASN) in mainstream classes. The Scottish Government has made it a key ambition for as many ASN children as possible to be taught in a mainstream environment, but teachers have complained of a lack of support staff.
One teacher, who addressed his contribution to the website to Mr Swinney, said: “I too have first-hand been assaulted by pupils in my class. This academic year alone, I have had the children in both classrooms on either side of mine evacuated into my class because the teacher has had concerns for their safety. This has been because a child with ASN has been hurting other children in the class. This is now a regular occurrence at our school.”
The teacher accused the education secretary of a “lack of understanding” and said a document designed to help teachers deal with such problems was “quite insulting”.
Another secondary teacher self-described as “worn out” outlined the difficulties of teaching a class of 30 children facing a variety of challenges.
“Some pupils can barely write the own name,” the teacher wrote. “Some of them haven’t had breakfast. Some of them cannot behave. Some of them have complex emotional needs … for some of them, school is the least of their worries.” Similar problems were identified by a “very disgruntled” teacher, who said staff required counselling after distressing incidents.
Another teacher described working “ridiculous hours under phenomenal stress” and coping with “excessive, pointless paperwork, attempting to salvage a curriculum that was so unfit for purpose it has taken over ten years for government to realise just what a complete mess they made of it”. The same contributor said teachers were spending hundreds of pounds on resources such as pens to ensure pupils were taught properly.
Another complained that education had been politicised since devolution, writing: “Education before devolution was, along with Scots law, a Scottish matter. For better or worse, it was one of the few areas of Scottish life in which Westminster and Scottish politicians seldom interfered.
“The Scottish Parliament has stolen education from educators and Scottish education is worse off as a result.”
Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “John Swinney visits schools and meets with teachers week in, week out and greatly values their robust and constructive feedback.
“Shortly after being appointed education secretary in 2016, [Mr Swinney] established the teacher panel as a new forum to directly listen to and engage with teachers. The widespread topics addressed by the panel included the curriculum, tackling bureaucracy, assessment, benchmarks, national qualifications ... [and] additional support for learning.”