It is easy to understand why, in the current financial situation, some local authorities would like teachers to spend a couple of hours longer in the classroom each week.
If Scottish teachers were to sacrifice some or all of their marking and preparation time within the school day, councils would not need to employ teachers to cover for them.
However, as yesterday's figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) clearly demonstrate, Scottish teachers are already spending around 150 hours a year longer teaching than the international average, measured across 38 countries. These figures provide grist to the mill for teaching unions who claim the current balance between a teacher's contact and non-contact time with pupils cannot be altered without damaging the quality of the educational product. That time is particularly important against the backdrop of the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence, which requires the preparation of a large quantity of extra material.
On the international pay scale, Scottish teachers are among the best remunerated on the planet. In the past decade pay has increased by 21% in real terms, following the landmark McCrone deal, which also reduced classroom time by 10%. This was deliberate. Prior to McCrone, teachers had slipped down the pay scale, compared with other professions. If Scotland was to compete in the 21st century knowledge-based economy, children had to be taught to think better and some of the best graduates had to be attracted into teaching. Once upon a time, a large proportion of school leavers would go into factory production line jobs or, before that, agricultural labour. Neither required huge brain power. No longer.
That is why another aspect of the OECD report gives cause for concern: that there is a huge range in the extent to which children from low educational backgrounds go on to college or university and the UK lags behind countries such as Australia, Sweden and Ireland. We know from other figures that Scotland fares worse even than the UK average in this respect. This suggests more needs to be done to mix children from different social backgrounds in school and intervene as early as possible in the lives of the most disadvantaged youngsters.
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