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7 January 2016, 15:53
An expert group will be set up to look at ways to improve Scotland's new qualifications amid the threat of industrial action by teachers.
Education Secretary Angela Constance said the group would examine how to reduce teacher workloads and stress in the wake of Curriculum for Excellence reforms.
The move follows an indicative ballot held by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, on possible industrial action.
National 4 and 5 Qualifications were brought in to replace the old Standard Grades in 2014, with schools given the option to phase in new Higher exams last year.
More than 93% of EIS members said they would be willing to take some kind of action over ''excessive and unsustainable'' workloads.
Ms Constance said the group, to be chaired by Learning Minister Alasdair Allan, would report back with initial recommendations in March in time for the 2016-17 school year.
She said: ``Teachers are at the heart of the success of new Highers and National Qualifications, where record Higher and Advanced Higher results have been achieved.
"We must continue to do all that we can to free up our teachers to teach, lessening workloads through tackling bureaucracy, and minimising stress, for the benefit of all in our education system.
"Following the introduction of the National Qualifications, now is the right time to look in depth at what further improvements can be made in schools.''
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: ``The overwhelming backing from EIS members in our consultative ballot for industrial action on national qualifications-generated workload clearly indicated that teachers are demanding changes.
"We welcome the fact that an initial report from the group is to be made by the end of March to ensure changes are made for school session 2016/17.
"Whilst this is a challenging timescale, the EIS will enter into constructive engagement with the working group, with the intention of reaching a workable agreement on real and lasting reductions to the bureaucracy, workload and stress associated with the new qualifications.''
He said the EIS executive would meet tomorrow to discuss the new group and consider the next steps in light of the recent ballot.
Liam McArthur MSP, education spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: ``Although I'm pleased this group will examine issues surrounding teacher stress and workload following the introduction of the new National Qualifications, this is at odds with the First Minister's determination to reintroduce national standardised testing.
"Rolling back the years with this return to a Thatcherite policy will only increase workload for teachers as well as stress levels for teachers and pupils alike.''