Help us to resist `savage' Tory plans, union urges SNP
Teachers in England should turn to the SNP for protection against the "savage and hostile" education policies of the new Conservative government, according to a union leader.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said the SNP's 56 MPs could "make a lot of noise and raise the profile of adverse effects and consequences" of Tory policy. The union would be looking to set up meetings "as quickly as possible" with the SNP's shadow education spokesperson to discuss issues affecting teachers on both sides of the border, she added.
Although the SNP has a long-standing position of not voting on matters that affect only England, leader Nicola Sturgeon has suggested in recent days that its MPs could vote against moves to repeal the fox hunting ban - an issue the party has previously insisted it would not intervene in.
Given a shared support for anti-austerity measures, Ms Keates told NASUWT Scotland's annual conference in Edinburgh last week that the SNP, with its tranche of new MPs, could prove to be a "significant" ally.
This signals a potential shift in strategy by the union, which has traditionally cultivated close links with Labour.
Ms Keates predicted that, having introduced greater competition between schools in England through the academies programme, the Conservatives would be looking to "finish the job" by promoting the free market in education.
She told TESS: "This government is going to continue to squeeze education funding and fail to tackle poverty and inequality. To have a large party like the SNP opposing these issues is useful and will bring a lot of pressure to bear on the government. They will be able to make a lot of noise and raise the profile of the adverse effects and consequences [of policies]."
While the SNP has previously said it would vote on an English issue only when there were implications for Scotland, this position is likely to be tested in the near future, thanks to the prime minister's promise to grant MPs a free vote on repealing the act that banned fox hunting in England.
When pressed on the SNP's position on Twitter, Ms Sturgeon said the party "has not yet taken a decision on this. We certainly don't agree with repealing [the] ban."
Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy at the University of Edinburgh's School of Social and Political Science, predicted that SNP MPs would be unable to resist voting, opening the door for them to take an interest in a whole host of issues affecting England. "If a moral principle is right for Scotland, surely it is right for England - that could be the safety of foxes or the structure of schooling," he said.
`Strong anti-austerity voice'
A spokesperson for the SNP said the party would work with partners across the UK to "advance progressive politics".
"Fighting austerity is the number one priority of the SNP as the Tory cuts agenda continues to cause real pain across the UK. The SNP will be a strong anti-austerity voice in the House of Commons," the spokesperson added. "SNP MPs will work with others at Westminster to advance progressive politics, to benefit not just people in Scotland but right across the UK, including the protection of public sector workers."
Meanwhile, NASUWT research reveals that 64 per cent of Scottish teachers questioned have witnessed children coming into school too hungry to concentrate on their work. More than a quarter of respondents have bought food for hungry children. And 79 per cent report pupils arriving without clothing and footwear appropriate to the weather conditions.
Aberdeen City Council's director of education, Gayle Gorman, has been keen to sing the praises of Scottish schools policy compared with the approach in England. She returned to Scotland after several decades working south of the border, latterly as director of learning at Cambridgeshire County Council.
She relocated partly because she felt the politicising of elements of the educational agenda was "leading to strategies and approaches that really don't have education at their heart".
In 2013, she decided to tempt disaffected English teachers north to plug gaps in Aberdeen schools, offering a "golden hello" of pound;5,000. The strategy had an immediate effect, with 85 applications received for 52 teaching posts that had previously attracted no interest.
Since its introduction, the incentive scheme has helped to recruit 25 teachers.