THE outgoing headteacher of a Lothian primary has laid bare the full extent of troubles faced by schools struggling with budget cuts and staff shortages.
Isabel Marshall, head of Newtongrange Primary School, has announced she will be leaving next month after 33 years in the profession, saying she was “emotionally and physically exhausted”.
Mrs Marshall said she regretted the decision but that it came as she felt she no longer had “the resources to do the job to the level I feel it requires”.
The headteacher appeared before Holyrood’s education committee yesterday to discuss the day-to-day difficulties faced by teaching staff.
She said: “I have thoroughly loved my career but I have resigned and I leave in six weeks.
“I have loved it but I am utterly exhausted.
“It’s been the breadth of social and emotional demands as well as the management demands which have meant I have reached that point where I feel I need to have a break.
“As well as interacting with teachers, you are interacting with families, often families in extreme difficulties themselves, that has social and emotional impact on you.”
Mrs Marshall also warned there were not enough specialist supply teachers for pupils with anger problems and spoke of regular struggles to ensure the school had sufficient staff cover.
When asked why there were so many issues about recruiting enough staff to schools, Mrs Marshall said salary and a perception of teaching being a “difficult job” were both
She added: “I think there is a perception that it is a very rewarding job, but also a perception it is a difficult job – and it is a difficult job.
“In terms of getting people in, my two sons are at university just now having just left secondary, neither of them want to go back into school as teachers because they see teachers working very hard and being badly treated by members of their classes.
“Asking 18 and 19-year-olds to choose to become teachers is very difficult if they’ve not got a good experience of school themselves.”
The committee was taking evidence from the teaching staff as part of its inquiry into workforce planning in schools.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary at teaching union the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS), said Mrs Marshall’s comments echoed the results of an EIS survey two years ago.
Mr Flanagan said austerity budget cuts meant teachers were having to take on more and more additional responsibilities, for example tasks which would previously have been done by classroom assistants, as well as funding basic supplies out of their own wages.
He said: “Teacher morale is low and a lot of that relates to excessive workload and dwindling resources.
“By and large they are still recruiting the students to fill the places but when they are finishing then [with] the number who go on to become registered teachers in Scotland there’s a huge drop off.
“We don’t have the scale of teacher shortage as there is in England but there are worrying signs in Scotland of a developing problem.
“Where the private sector has seen significant salary increases people have a strong alternative option and they are exercising it.”
Mrs Marshall was joined at Holyrood by several other teachers and trainees, some of whom told MSPs that they did not intend to stay in the profession.
In her written submission, West Lothian primary teacher Emma Newton said: “I would love to continue to work until I retire, however the workload is so great, and the associated stresses that come with that are such that I think if I manage another two to three years I will be doing well.
“I am already trying to decide if I could work part-time from the academic year 18/19. Burnout is an issue with many teachers I know.”
She added: “Most of us feel undervalued and overworked and there will be at least one person each week talking about leaving.
“Inspections are worthless as the people carrying them out have been out of the classroom for too long and have no idea what most teachers deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
Tory MSP and education spokesperson Liz Smith said the evidence submitted to the committee showed “serious issues remain about workload, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and exam reform”.
But a spokesman for the Scottish Government responded: “The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development confirmed that CfE was the right model for Scotland, while noting the challenges the Scottish Government is working to address.
“Our deal with local authorities to maintain the pupil-teacher ratio halted a period of steady decline in recruitment and resulted in 253 more teachers last year, the first
substantial increase since 2007.”
A Midlothian Council spokesman said: “Last year Midlothian took steps to allocate additional investment to the education workforce by creating a permanent pool of supply teachers for the primary sector. We have low teacher absence and each year have met our teacher-pupil ratio.
“We are working hard to replenish our permanent supply pool for next session and we note that Mrs Marshall, in her comments, drew attention to the support she has received from the local authority through the allocation of an additional DHT and teacher.”