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Left off the train on anti-sectarianism

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is impressed by the attention which the First Minister is paying to the scourge of sectarianism in Scotland, as reflected in the one-day conference he chaired on the issue.

You can certainly gauge that there is an election in the air when an ancient and bitter contention can be solved in a one-day new Labour whiz of smoke and mirrors activity.

The great and the good picked from wherever by whatever criteria met and came away, yet those of us from the education side who have an abiding interest, and an actual organisational involvement in dealing with the issues involved in sectarianism, were somehow strangely left off the invitation list.

NASUWT is the largest trades union in that crucible of sectarianism, Northern Ireland. It got to be such, despite having its headquarters in England, as it was perceived to be the only non-sectarian teacher trades union organisation.

The other unions are still largely popularly accepted as either the unionist or nationalist party at school. NASUWT has therefore a unique perspective to offer on the matter of sectarianism in Scotland, as it can draw directly on the union's experience in Northern Ireland to inform whatever analysis of the situation is made in Scotland.

We were shocked to discover about the conference on sectarianism only after the event took place. A couple of things flow from this omission.

First, it may be that the First Minister does not know about the situation in Northern Ireland and the efforts that NASUWT has made in finding different ways to combat sectarianism where it really takes wider social root - in schools. We might find that hard to believe for a boy from the west of Scotland and an ex-teacher to boot.

Second, we have written to the First Minister expressing our concerns about our omission. Inexplicably after several weeks of waiting, we still have received no reply to our letter.

As a union, we spend a lot of our time having to shake our collective head in bewilderment as one initiative piles remorselessly on top of another on teachers in schools. But here is an actual issue about which we want to engage in dialogue but are uninvolved due to Government ignorance about who can usefully contribute.

If education and teachers are to have a part to play in finding answers to sectarianism in Scotland, people and organisations who actually have something to contribute should be involved actively from the start - not having to run to get on board after the ideas train has almost left the station.

Roy Robertson Scottish treasurer NASUWT

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