Mike Corbett

The president of NASUWT Scotland talks about the most crucial issue facing teachers, why the pension fight is not over and why he would struggle to recommend a career in teaching nowadays. Photography James Glossop

Julia Belgutay

Why did you join the NASUWT?

When I started, everyone seemed to join the EIS - it was the biggest voice, so I joined them. But in the late 1990s, with Higher Still and curricular change, particularly in English we were very concerned about what they were proposing. That concern didn't seem to be reflected when I spoke to EIS representatives. So I wrote to the EIS, the SSTA and the NASUWT saying: "I'm concerned about these proposals, what is your take on that?" The only reply I got was from the NASUWT.

What is the characteristic that will serve you best in your year as president?

I think the experience I had in human resources is quite useful. Having a background in employment law, albeit from the other side of the table, is quite useful when you are looking at the massive SNCT (Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers) documents and weeding through the legal language. And I do think I have half-decent communication skills.

What is the most crucial issue facing teachers this year?

The new qualifications, undoubtedly.

The deep audit published last month stated implementation of the new National qualifications is on track. Do you agree?

No. But it's not that simple. They are not completely on track, but it differs in each subject. The final proposals have only just been published, only now do we see exactly what we face. And for some subjects, that is OK, they can see a way through and they will be ready. But some subjects are saying, "This is brand new, this is not something we have done before - we really do need more time to prepare."

Do you think the pensions fight is lost?

No, because we still have, nationally, a legal challenge out against the Westminster government, in terms of their failure to value the teachers' pension scheme, which is yet to be heard. The simple argument is: how can you ask us to pay additional contributions when we do not know the value of the scheme?

A year ago, it was anticipated there would be an influx of disgruntled EIS members into the NASUWT. Has that happened?

Yes. I don't know the numbers, but what I can say is that at one of the most recent school rep training events, the majority who attended were former EIS reps who clearly were unhappy, mainly with the deal last year. So they not only came to us, but were keen to be involved as reps as well.

Why should Scottish teachers choose the NASUWT over other unions?

We have incredibly good training compared with any of the other unions in Scotland. That is perhaps because we are the biggest UK union, so we can put the resources into that. That means that the advice members get is top class, because the people know their stuff. Alongside that, we are apolitical. We are there to represent the interests of teachers. And when you look at what happened with the deal last year, you have got to question if there was some political influence.

Do you think the union is taken seriously by politicians in Scotland?

The answer to that would have to be "yes, increasingly". We now have a full seat on the SNCT, whereas previously we had to share. That suggests increasing influence and we are being listened to.

How effective do you think your action short of strike action can be, when we look at some schools where there are only one or two members?

I think the best example of that was one we heard at the AGM, when a woman explained how she and two other members at her school had said they weren't going to do playground duty and once they had done that, the members of all the other unions started kicking up a fuss. It remains a very difficult thing to do, because your commitment is still to the pupils. I really enjoy taking pupils on theatre trips. I haven't done that for the past six months, and that's tricky. But there is just no recognition of the extras teachers do. So you have to step back and say, "It's time to say no" - otherwise we are not going to be taken seriously.

What can NASUWT members in Scotland learn from the problems their colleagues are facing down south?

It's instructive to see the difficulties teachers face when the supposedly nationwide state school system really moves towards a much more independent model - where the power lies with school governors and heads to set rates of pay for teachers, to sack teachers they don't like the look of.

Do you still enjoy being a teacher?

Absolutely. I love it. Best job I've ever had. That is why being a chartered teacher was so appealing, because you could stay in the classroom. I got involved in the union side, really, because I enjoyed the job. But every other year someone, somewhere, has an idea that I feel, if implemented, is going to make the job less enjoyable.

Would you still recommend teaching as a career?

That's difficult. It's a fantastically enjoyable and rewarding job, but I came to it as a mature student from a successful career in another area. Could I really recommend that to someone in a similar position now, when there is such a lack of certainty about employment? I don't think I could. They would be taking a massive risk.


Born: Aberdeen, 1966

Education: Cornhill Primary; Hilton Academy; University of Aberdeen; Robert Gordon University; University of Strathclyde

Career: Assistant personnel manager; English teacher; chartered teacher.

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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