Boycott betrayed by fudge and nudge

David Henderson reports on a rough ride for the leadership at the EIS's annual conference in Dundee.

LEADERS of the Educational Institute of Scotland are under greater pressure than ever to raise the ante on Higher Still testing after delegates at the union's annual conference twice rejected what one delegate labelled a failed policy of "fudge, nudge and compromise".

The leadership was condemned for ruling out a ballot over a boycott of unit assessment last September and for attempting to continue its softly, softly strategy of negotiation with the Scottish Executive.

A move to ballot members by the end of August was thrown out by the leadership at a meeting before the conference. Delegates retaliated by dismissing an emergency motion on internal assessment backed by union leaders.

Defending the union's position, Willie Hart, past president, said the Executive had conceded ground last autumn by announcing a full consultation on possible reforms around what became known as options A and B and by conducting a subject by subject review. These were "material changes".

Mr Hart accepted the rejection of both options was "disappointing" but the union could not have known that when it agreed to suspend the September ballot. All teachers had been invited to respond to the consultation: few did.

"Only 200 individual teachers out of 25,000 teachers and FE lecturers bothered to respond. Of those, fewer than half chose option A (the favoured EIS route which would have allowed schools to decide whether to take unit tests). Of departments who responded, they were 3:1 against option A," he said.

There had been no complaints to the union since September about its Higher Still strategy.

Brian McHardy, Angus, said: "As a school rep for 20 years, I know I could not have carried my members on option A and my members would not have supported a boycott." He had canvassed the views of 136 principal teachers in his authority. "To say there was no clear consensus among them would be an understatement and not one submission was received from any individual teacher."

Alan Munro, East Renfrewshire, said there was no "substantial fire in the belly" among members over industrial action to cut assessment. Negotiation had brought considerable progress.

John Dennis, Dumfries and Galloway, a prominent anti-leadership campaigner, replied: "Frankly, after three years of Higher Still we still have the appalling situation in March every year when members are under the cosh with internal assessments which inevitably come at the end of courses."

In the first year of the reforms, students in his Higher German class were off with stress in March. "All this played havoc with the scheduled assessments. One girl had 22 separate internal assessments across five subjects in March. It is slightly better now. But this year I have an Advanced Higher German group and the 'March madness' of stress-related absence has affected this small group as well. One out of four dropped out," Mr Dennis said.

Maureen Watson, North Lanarkshire and another leadership critic, said each time the annual conference had called for a boycott over the past three years, it had been thwarted. Without the threat of action, the Executive would not make concessions.

Martin Rogan, Dumfries and Galloway, said: "The EIS leadership is part of the problem rather than the solution."

The conference voted 181-147 to record its disapproval of the strategy last September and then backed the sidelining of the leadership's emergency motion.

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