New Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said she wants progress to be made in cutting the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom “as soon as possible”.
Prior to May’s Holyrood election, the SNP committed to reducing the amount of time teachers spend with youngsters by 90 minutes a week – with Ms Somerville saying this move would help reduce workload and stress for the profession, as well as create more than 2,000 new teaching jobs.
Her comments came the day after members of Scotland’s largest teaching union backed calls for a strike ballot if a deal is not reached in the next 15 months to cut both class sizes and teachers’ class contact time.
The EIS wants a nine-year plan to be put in place by September 2022 – with members at the union’s AGM passing a motion saying they could ballot for “industrial action up to and including strike action” if this is not achieved.
Addressing the AGM on Friday, Miss Somerville said the Scottish Government is “committed to reducing the teacher class contact time by one-and-a-half hours to free up teachers to prepare lessons and improve their skills”.
She also said she wants local councils to do more to take on teaching staff on permanent contracts, insisting the Covid-19 pandemic and recovery from it means Scotland needs to use “every teaching resource that we have available to be able to assist our children and young people”.
She told the AGM, which is taking place online, she accepts there are currently a “significant number” of teachers who are employed on temporary contracts.
“I will encourage local authorities to employ more teachers in permanent contracts going forward,” the Education Secretary said.
“I really do want local authorities, who are of course the employers of teachers, to be encouraging permanent contracts. The funding is going from the Scottish Government, there is clearly a need for teachers at this point and into the future.”
With the SNP having pledged to recruit “at least” 3,500 more teachers and classroom assistants over the next five years, Ms Somerville said she will be “working very carefully to encourage local authorities to move to that permanent contract position”.
She insisted: “We need the teaching profession and at this point every teacher to be available in the classroom, and that is what I want to be able to see.”
On plans to cut the time teachers spend in the classroom each week, Ms Somerville said “workload is a main factor in teacher stress, so reducing class contract time by one-and-a-half hours will create more than 2,000 permanent teaching posts, and reduce workload”.
She vowed: “It is for that reason that I want to deliver on this commitment as soon as possible.”
Ms Somerville later told EIS members that she will “do what I can to lessen workloads and minimise stress for the benefit of all”.