Education in Midlothian

Wednesday June 19th 2019


Written by Michelle Ballantyne, South Scotland MSP

From philosophers like Sidney Hook who say that “teachers are the heart of the educational system” to data driven pioneers like Bill Gates who argues that evidence dictates “it is more important to get [your child] assigned to a great teacher than a great school.” It is clear that the role that an individual teacher plays in a child’s education is invaluable.

Thankfully for our children, Midlothian is full of incredibly hard-working in passionate teachers, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on visits and at events. But right now there is a growing concern that the workload these teachers face is seriously hindering how well they can do their jobs.

At the time of writing, there were 11 job vacancies for teachers in Midlothian; including schools who are currently lacking head teachers, teachers in STEM subjects and specialist support for additional needs students. All key roles that schools need to fill.

However, as a result of poor workforce planning across Scotland and the SNP Government reducing the funding to councils, schools are forced to implement alternative solutions when simply hiring more teachers is not possible.

One prevalent method is to combine classes so that teachers could be running three different courses simultaneously in the same classroom.

Unfortunately, Midlothian Council does not have statistics regarding the frequency with which this is occurring, but across Scotland the idea of having multi-level classrooms is becoming ever more commonplace. Amongst the local authorities who keep data on this, all of them are currently engaging in the practice.

At the same time, teachers have been going above and beyond the call of duty. The Educational Institute of Scotland found that every week over 60 per cent of teachers work at least five hours more than their contracted hours.

Meanwhile, it’s our children who are losing out. Evidence from Reform Scotland pointed out that subject choices are declining in our schools, primarily impacting disadvantaged communities.

I imagine at this point many readers are asking, “what is the Scottish Government doing about this?”- and you’d be right to ask. After all, Nicola Sturgeon did say that education was her top priority. Last week, Ruth Davidson asked the SNP Deputy Leader and Education Secretary the same question.

In response, Mr. Swinney said he’s had enough of this “moanfest”.

Education is a heavily nuanced subject, and in all honesty, I imagine fixing the workforce issues we’re currently facing will take time. However, surely it says something about how seriously the SNP are taking this issue if their Education Secretary is going to dismiss these widespread concerns so flippantly.

It’s clear that the current plans for education simply aren’t working for our young people or our educators. This is why my Scottish Conservative colleagues and I will continue to lobby the Scottish Government on this matter. We need a long-term strategy for workforce planning in education to ensure that we have enough teachers in the right subjects, and that the workloads that teachers are faced with are manageable.

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