Teacher pay: 'At last, the government has done the right thing’

The new pay deal is a massive victory for Scottish teachers - it offers hope for the future, writes James McEnaney

James McEnaney

Teacher pay: the government finally does the right thing

It took longer than it should have, and there were some considerable bumps along the way, but, in the end, the SNP has done the right thing: as of April, teachers will receive a 7 per cent pay rise, on top of a 3 per cent pay rise backdated to April 2018, with another 3 per cent to come a year later. It means that, between now and April 2020, teachers across the pay scale will see their salary boosted by thousands of pounds.

There's absolutely no doubt that this is a massive victory for teachers, who faced down two “final offers” and came closer to national strike action than many thought possible. And it's also an illustration – not just for teachers, but all workers – of the importance of collective action. If you're not in a union, go and join one.

But this isn't the end of the road – on the contrary, it should be the start of a new journey for Scottish education.

Quick read: New teacher pay offer may avert historic strike action

What campaigners fought for: Wages 'comparable with other countries'

What had been offered: Teachers would get 'best pay rise of any UK public sector workers'

Workload: Most school staff in Scotland 'would not recommend becoming a teacher'

This pay deal, you see, isn't just a pay deal. The government has also made a commitment to look at other issues, including the one that remains the elephant in every classroom: workload.

OK, we've heard it before. Back in the summer of 2016, education secretary John Swinney issued what he called "definitive guidance" to address workload in schools – it was mocked by many and dismissed by the rest.

Tackling teacher workload

Then the SQA was told to ditch unit assessments, but the subsequent changes to exams just made things worse.

This time could be different, but only if those at the top are brave enough to make it happen.

Back in 2015, first minister Nicola Sturgeon told us that we should judge her on her record on education during a speech in which she also announced the reimposition of standardised testing. It was a clumsy, counter-productive and wildly misguided attempt to gain political advantage by tying educational improvement to electoral cycles, and it set the tone for what would become a grindingly myopic “debate” for the past three-and-a-half years.

Now, there's a chance to change the whole narrative and reclaim the sense of progress, and social justice, that once defined Scottish education.

The first step in that journey will, naturally, be the hardest: we need a mea culpa from a first minister who got it badly wrong in 2015 and an education secretary who has made plenty of his own mistakes since taking on the role a few months later. And then we need a clear change of tack.

The usual suspects – from Tory politicians to ignorant columnists – won't be happy, but what's new?

The reality is that Scottish education won't be improved by accountability measures, a slew of standardised test data, unnecessary structural changes or gimmicky funding schemes. Educational inequality (or the “attainment gap”) is going nowhere so long as socioeconomic inequality is so deeply entrenched. Simplistic solutions – unsurprisingly – don't solve complex problems. But that doesn't mean that nothing can be done.

To improve the quality of Scottish education, we need to give teachers the support they need to continually improve themselves. To do that, the government should set out to reduce class-contact time (which is much higher here than almost anywhere else), establish an ambitious replacement for the Chartered Teacher scheme and restore the support posts that have been slashed over the years. They should recommit to cutting primary class sizes and work towards ending multi-level teaching in secondary schools.

And they should engage in a proper, apolitical review of the design, development and current status of Curriculum for Excellence.

If the government has the courage to reach out on these terms, it could build a wide coalition of support from across the teaching profession and, I expect, the political spectrum.

We can do better if we do it together. Let's start now.

James McEnaney is a journalist, FE lecturer and former schoolteacher in Scotland

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James McEnaney

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