Peacock stands by the EIS

20th May 2005 at 01:00
"Stand up for the excellence of what's going on in our schools" was the upbeat message from Peter Peacock to the Educational Institute of Scotland's education conference in Edinburgh at the weekend.

"I'm going to stand up for you but you need to do it as well," the Education Minister said. Scotland, Mr Peacock pointed out, was regularly outperformed in international comparisons by only three other countries - Finland, Japan and South Korea.

But, no sooner had he uttered his plea, than he was sharply reminded that a number in the EIS do not regard everybody as making an equal contribution to the loveliness of the garden - the local authorities in particular.

Susan Quinn of the union's Glasgow local association pressed Mr Peacock to persuade authorities not to reduce teacher numbers in line with falling rolls. "We need to ensure that the extra teachers coming out of training are being retained by authorities," she said.

Mr Peacock replied that he was in the middle of "complex discussions" with the authorities, attempting to ensure that money intended for schools, including funding for extra teachers, was getting through and was not "spent on lampposts".

He repeated an earlier pledge to intervene and take action if necessary.

The pledge to increase the size of the teaching force to 53,000 by 2007 "is a very clear target and we don't intend to miss it".

In his contribution, Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, strongly attacked the authorities for failing to involve teachers when modernising schools.

Many staff felt "sidelined".

Unless things changed, ambitions for curriculum and assessment reform would not become "a workable reality in schools", Mr Smith warned. He acknowledged that the EIS was involved nationally in a close partnership with the Scottish Executive but, irrespective of that, "when faced with the political reality of local authorities and the practical realities of classrooms, things will be very different indeed.

"Across our 32 councils, the kind of dialogue which I have described taking place between ourselves and others in education at a national level is not always such a meaningful experience . . . In all too many authorities, teachers continue to feel sidelined on the real process of change."

Mr Smith expressed the fear that the Education Minister's aspiration to move away from an overly prescriptive curriculum and assessment regime, which the union shared, might create a vacuum which authorities could fill by resorting to local prescription and local standardisation, even with local league tables.

Councils, he said, "must, from the start, bring on board all teachers - not just favoured headteachers, favoured principal teachers and seconded staff".

Mr Smith also cited the changes that many authorities were introducing to promoted post structures in schools, which a survey published last week found had contributed to 80 per cent of the union's members saying morale had worsened.

"Local authorities have not handled this well," he said, adding the familiar union protest that doing away with principal teachers or making them insecure was not the best way of delivering curriculum and assessment changes.

The EIS continues to call on ministers to consider further reductions in class sizes beyond their current plans for primary 1, S1 and S2.

Class sizes of 30 and above at other stages of schooling and in every part of the curriculum "are quite unrealistic in 2005", Mr Smith suggested.

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