Teaching and Learning in Scotland

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Teaching in Scotland


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What are some of the teaching and learning issues in Scotland?

Recently, I was invited to Blairgowrie High School, Angus, in Scotland to be part of their teaching and learning festival with a group of schools as part of Perth and Kinross’ professional development days for all of their teachers.

A good Scottish education…

It was an honour to return to home and share my insights to help teachers, in a part of the UK which has a limited budget and, demographically speaking, presents itself with a whole set of teaching challenges which have been alien to me for much of my career. Born in Scotland, the first ten years of my life I was blessed with a good education in Scottish primary schools.

Back in the 1980s, when I moved to London, there was a distinct difference in the classroom in terms of what I already knew and what was being taught to pupils of my age. In simple terms, I was a year ahead. Of course, I do not represent the entire education system and worse, I suspect my memory of 35 years ago is vague, incorrect and possibly suffering from some form of bias.

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What did I learn about teaching and learning in Scotland?

Thirty years later, it was good to attend as a qualified practitioner. In attendance, six schools and almost 200 teachers gathered, with a range of voices providing a large number of workshops. I was delighted to open the day with a workload and wellbeing keynote, sharing what I have learned about the pressures of managing teacher wellbeing, offering three smaller workshops later in the day to help the teachers tackle those exact problems in a more manageable way.

The facts

  1. Since 2012, about 23,000 teachers have qualified; numbers are increasing
  2. Around 4,267 NQTs have quit since 2012
  3. Of those teachers, 18 per cent quit within 6 years of qualifying
  4. Increasing groups of 43-60-year-olds are now quitting the profession
  5. In Scotland, there is a teacher shortage of 3,100 with an annual bill of £60M for supply teachers.

Teacher Census, Scotland

The levels of stress in Scottish teachers…

During my keynote, I shared an academic paper on Scotland’s Teachers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing. The aims of the research were to explore the levels of stress in Scottish teachers, the ‘working conditions’ experienced, the frequency of negative parental and student behaviour, job satisfaction and turnover intentions and the influences of all of the above. In total there were 4,947 responses with 92 per cent female primary and 65 per cent female secondary respondents. The average age was 41 primary/42 secondary which also matches government data with the average age of respondents at 44. The report suggested:

  • That Scottish teachers have chronically poor working conditions, irrespective of their job role with a 40 per cent of Scottish teachers and management looking at leaving the job in the next 15-19 months!
  • 30 per cent teachers and 20 per cent of management are exposed to poor parental behaviour either online or on school premises at least once a month.

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Behaviour, behaviour, behaviour…

When I surveyed teachers on their workload issue, ‘behaviour‘ was reported as the greatest burden on teachers. Firstly, I was surprised by this, having surveyed almost 21,000 teachers over the last two years, ‘behaviour’ rarely features as an issue in most UK settings. I’m not denying it is a problem for most of us, and certainly not something which is representative of Scotland’s schools, but this was a fascinating piece of research. As a result, I was keen to learn more about why ‘behaviour’ was the number one workload issue…

Parental expectations, perceptions of schooling, attitudes to learning and general classroom and corridor management appeared to create the most frustration amongst the teachers I worked with. We all know that some of the best ideas we ‘live and die by’ in the classroom struggle to be delivered by the best of us if we spend large amounts of our time managing pupils before the teaching and learning can take place. It is not the sole job of our school leaders. Secondly, school leaders must be doing all that they can to support teachers to have the conditions in which they can teach. This also means sending regular communications home to parents, challenging their perceptions of teaching, tackling the hard to reach as well as all the other complex issues schools face when communicating with families in the home.

Teaching is a team sport, and in all schools, every teacher must be working collectively in and out of the classroom to manage whole-school behaviour.

3 thoughts on “Teaching and Learning in Scotland

  1. Education is the most powerful weapon which anyone can use to change the world and their destiny in life. Education or to be educated is the need of the hour and when we are talking about education we certainly don’t want to bargain with our roads ahead in life.

  2. Ross, I wonder if the reason behaviour is a more significant concern in Scotland is because of a slightly misfired push towards fully restorative practices? I’m seeing evidence of state schools refusing to push standards in uniform, or allowing bullies to ‘talk the talk’ but not ‘walk the walk’ of restorative conversations, all in the name of good practice but ultimately to the detriment of overall feelings of safety and wellbeing amongst pupils, and general standards of behaviour. This, in turn, seems to be disempowering and demoralising teachers. There’s nothing instrinsically wrong with restorative behaviour management, but I wonder if it is being misinterpreted by well-meaning managers and policy makers.

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