Alan Munro

10th June 2011 at 01:00
When he becomes president of the EIS teachers' union at its AGM in Perth this week, it will be at a particularly difficult time, with the unions girding their loins for the McCormac report on teacher employment and teachers on the warpath over changes to working conditions

What made you become a teacher?

A fascination with my subject. I was heavily into biology and had to make a decision whether to do a masters degree in hydrobiology or go to Jordanhill. I chose Jordanhill because I was quite committed to teaching.

How long did you work in the classroom?

Twenty-one years.

You represent teachers in East Renfrewshire, often depicted as a leafy suburb with Scotland's highest educational attainment. Does that make your members' lives easier?

I think the leafy suburb thing is somewhat overdone. There are areas of East Renfrewshire where that description does not fit. It doesn't make my members' lives easier; it makes them different, in the sense that the parental expectations and attainment expectations in some parts of East Renfrewshire are very high. I am very much a supporter of East Renfrewshire's investment in education over the years, in comparison to some parts of our nation. But it is a very demanding place to work.

Can you describe the range of issues you have to deal with?

Anything from giving information about people's rights and conditions of service, to helping people in distress. It can be a mixture of personal and work-related, and sometimes it's difficult to disentangle the two. A lot of it has to do with workplace relationships, sometimes due to the hierarchical issues that can bedevil education.

How would you describe yourself - left-wing agitator or middle-of-the-road consensus-builder?

Left of middle-of-the-road consensus builder - not a left-wing agitator in terms of the EIS.

Have you lost many members to the other unions who opposed the revised teachers' agreement?

It's too early to say. I hope not, because I don't believe that going anywhere else is a fruitful option. I think there has been a degree of opportunism among the other unions - because of their size, they don't have to make the difficult decisions.

How do you feel about the agreement?

It is the hardest agreement we have had to strike in the past 30 years. However, the opportunity for guaranteeing jobs could not be sacrificed - it was too important. What makes everyone feel very unhappy about the deal is the fact that when we voted for it, we knew its effect would be to disadvantage some of our members. I am firmly of the belief that things would have been worse if we hadn't struck the deal.

What do you say to supply teachers who feel they have been betrayed by their union?

They should direct their ire at the employers and the Government for being complicit in that. Supply teachers do a highly valuable job - a two-tier workforce is something we never wanted to bring about. But they would be even worse off if the deal had not been settled. It was down to realpolitik and the absence of an alternative strategy. It was clear to us the membership was not prepared to take the concerted long-term action that would have been required on the industrial front to bring about a substantial betterment of the position.

Do you have any words of consolation for chartered teachers who have paid a lot of money and worked hard to climb the professional ladder?

We have made representations to the McCormac committee which clearly outline our support for such a scheme. I only hope that our own powerful words, along with others supportive of it, are persuasive.

How do you win over the backing of the RejectEIS campaign?

By presenting ourselves professionally. I don't lose a lot of time concerning myself about what I see as a fringe activity which is motivated by people who don't have the interests of our members at heart. I think these people have their own political agenda and use any opportunity that arises.

What do you think you can do as president to restore confidence in the union?

Be honest with people about the real situation. Be absolutely confident, as I am, that our policies are secure and democratically reached and be sure that we represent the real feelings of teachers in Scotland. I intend to go out of my way to get about the schools and know what's actually being thought.

As EIS president, what advice would you give to the Education Secretary?

Talk to me, talk to us on a very regular and ongoing basis. Continue to fight the corner of education in terms of resources, because the profession can't afford to take any further cuts without serious damage. Do something about the postcode lottery of provision across Scotland.

Do you think a majority SNP government will be harder to negotiate with than when it was in a minority?

Only time will tell. I see no reason why it should be.

What would you personally most wish for from the McCormac review?

That it doesn't lead to a McCrone-lite version and continues to recognise that teaching should be a well-paid profession that will attract highly- motivated people.

Are there any lines you will not cross in terms of changes to pay and conditions?

Yes there are, but I'm not going to say what they are.

Personal profile

Born: Glasgow, 1958

Education: Mount Florida Primary; Allan Glen's School, Glasgow, when it was a selective all-boys' school; Paisley College of Technology

Career: Biology teacher at Calderhead High and Airdrie Academy, North Lanarkshire, and Williamwood High, East Renfrewshire; EIS local association secretary, East Renfrewshire, since 2003

Photography Colin Hattersley.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today