TEACHERS' leaders are considering a suspension of industrial action over their workload after the scrapping of controversial school assessments.

The move comes after John Swinney, the Education Secretary, confirmed that unit assessments, which pupils have to pass before being awarded Higher and National 5 qualifications, will be axed as part of moves to reduce the pressure on teachers and pupils.

Secondary teachers from the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union started a programme of industrial action in May in protest over their workload, but will now review the action.

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Although the work to rule is still technically in place it is understood the EIS executive will recommend a suspension at a meeting next week.

The breakthrough comes after the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the EIS reached agreement to remove the requirement for pupils to pass the unit assessments before achieving National 5 and Higher qualifications.

Welcoming the move Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said: “The announcement that mandatory unit assessments at National 5 and Higher are to be scrapped will be welcomed by teachers, pupils and parents.

"This is a proposal which the EIS put to the Scottish Government as a way forward and clearly we welcome the agreement which has now been reached.

"Since the introduction of new National qualifications, pupils and teachers have been placed under an excessive and unnecessary assessment burden during the senior phase of secondary leading finally to EIS industrial action."

John Swinney, the Education Secretary, said the reforms would be introduced on a phased basis with changes to National 5 implemented in 2017/18 and changes to Higher in 2018/19.

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He said: "We have much to be proud of in our education system, but there are issues around workload that are preventing teachers from maximising the time they have available to teach and the positive impact they can have on the children and young people of Scotland.

"I have acted to de-clutter the curriculum guidance for teachers, instructed a review of the workload demands placed on teachers and schools by local authorities and sought assurances from the SQA that everything possible is being done to reduce workload associated with assessment around the new National qualifications."

"Alongside the other actions we have taken, these proposals will significantly reduce teacher workload, bureaucracy and over assessment."

The breakthrough comes after Mr Swinney pledged to make tackling teacher workload his number one priority.

Earlier this year he called on the SQA to do more to address the impact qualifications were having in the classroom, but Dr Janet Brown, the organisation's chief executive, said going further would damage the integrity of National qualifications and "create risks to their secure delivery".

An SQA spokesman said: "SQA has engaged fully with the ministerial Assessment and National Qualifications Group and the stakeholders represented on it. In line with the commitment in the Scottish Government’s delivery plan, we will continue to discuss the future design and possible long-term modifications to National Courses.

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“SQA remains committed to the continued implementation of the National Qualifications and to maintaining their integrity and credibility."

While external exams and most coursework for Highers and National 5s are marked by the SQA unit assessments are dealt with by teachers - with pupils expected to pass all of them in order to achieve the qualification even though they don't carry a mark.

The assessments were introduced to lessen the importance of external exams, to set short-term goals for pupils and build a series of benchmarked achievements into courses because of concerns some pupils, such as those from more deprived backgrounds, were being disadvantaged.

However, teachers argue the units are unnecessary because pupils are still required to pass the coursework and final exam. They also argue the resulting workload has led to a crisis in schools with staff swamped with paperwork and pupils spending too much time being assessed.