Keeping afloat on waves of change

6th June 2008 at 01:00
This week, David Drever became the first Orcadian president of Scotland's largest teaching union. He speaks to Emma Seith about the challenges ahead - and underwater hockey
This week, David Drever became the first Orcadian president of Scotland's largest teaching union. He speaks to Emma Seith about the challenges ahead - and underwater hockey

In 1976, David Drever took up his first teaching post at Queens Park Secondary in Glasgow. Five weeks later, he attended his first union meeting; by the end of it, he had become the school's Educational Institute of Scotland representative.

"I've always been involved; I've always been an activist," says Mr Drever, 56, who is depute head at Kirkwall Grammar in Orkney.

It is in his blood, he feels. His father was in the International Brigade which fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

At Glasgow University, Mr Drever was heavily involved in student politics. In his last year, he found himself juggling the organisation of an occupation of Jordanhill College to protest against cuts to grants, with his finals.

Today the "plate spinning" continues, although some have fallen. He hardly finds the time, he says, for scuba diving - let alone octopush, a game designed to keep divers fit in winter, which he describes as "underwater hockey" (competitors wear flippers and a snorkel and hit a two-kilogram lead puck with wooden bats). Yet he always has time to read. "I've been soaked in a strong solution of books all my life," he says.

When it comes to education, Mr Drever does not have "personal hobby horses", he says, but is "acutely aware of the important and pertinent issues of the period". These are "interesting times", he feels. "We have a relatively new government which has made commitments to education, and now we get to see how they are going to deliver." It will be up to unions and others to make sure they do, he declares.

Class sizes are at the forefront of Mr Drever's mind, but cuts in education spending are also going to be an issue - just as they were 32 years ago in his first year of teaching.

There is every indication, he feels, that a crisis is looming for newly-qualified teachers. "The problem is twofold: there is the anguish for people who have committed to training knowing they are not going to get work at the end of it, and resource wastage. A lot of time and money is put into training these people, yet there is the possibility they will be lost to the profession."

Mr Drever is also determined that, on his presidential watch, the new funding arrangements between central and local government, which give councils more freedom to spend their money as they choose, will not dilute the "national character" of Scottish education.

"Already, we are seeing an unevenness throughout the country in councils' ability or willingness to implement changes to class sizes," he notes. "A patchwork could develop which will result in pupils and schools losing out."

Living in Orkney - where he moved in 1986 from Glasgow to become principal teacher of English at Kirkwall Grammar - has made him appreciate the importance of rural schools. "I hope in the coming year to be able to argue the case for rural and island schools," he says.

Equally, however, he is no stranger to the issues faced by inner city schools. After leaving Queen's Park Secondary and a spell at Cathkin High in Cambuslang, he became principal teacher of English at Albert Secondary in Glasgow's Springburn where, he recalls, the poverty and devastation "must have resembled Hamburg and Berlin after the war."

He describes it as a "frontline school"; the kind he loved to work in. But he has never regretted the decision to return to his roots - his grandparents were from Orkney - and now he is the first Orcadian to become president of the EIS.

"The islands are well represented," he points out. "I'm the first president from Orkney and we have a general secretary (Ronnie Smith) from Shetland."

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