Phil Jackson

7th June 2013 at 01:00
The new president of teachers' union the Educational Institute of Scotland discusses what type of leader he will be, the importance of solidarity and a common cause and his surprising musical hobbies. Interview by Henry Hepburn. Photography by Fraser Band

Why did you become a teacher?

My original intention was to become a psychologist, but I went into teaching in 1978 and enjoyed it so much that I decided to stay. My first post was with special needs children.

Tell us something that people might not know about you.

I play a few musical instruments, mainly keyboards, but also a bit of guitar and bass. I collaborate with people long distance and produce my own music, mainly electronic rock, which may surprise some people who think I'm really quiet. I review music and do interviews, too, for a magazine in France.

What type of president will you be?

My style is very much a team approach. The thing that really concerns me is growing inequality between rich and poor.

What will be the big story to emerge from this year's annual conference?

Obviously Curriculum for Excellence will be a big element, but also workload.

In 10 years' time, do you think teachers will look back, with CfE well established, and wonder what the fuss was about?

It gives us an opportunity, certainly, to improve experiences for everyone, and if it means more trust in the professionalism of teachers, that's a good thing. But we've got to be very careful that CfE levels are used appropriately, and that it doesn't become overly bureaucratic.

What about the new National qualifications?

It will be interesting to see whether teachers are reassured by all the course materials coming through, and are beginning to see how the whole thing's going to work.

On the whole, are people still keeping the faith with CfE?

The challenge is within the climate we're working in - cutbacks and so on. You're not going to get it on the cheap. We have to invest in our children's future, in education.

What do you think about faculty systems?

If it's about a more efficient way of doing things and is in keeping with the spirit of CfE, then fine. But if it's a way of doing things more cheaply, it's not. You do hear about subjects lumped together, which don't seem to suit each other.

The latest EIS survey of members looked at CfE in primary schools. What messages would you highlight?

The assumption is often that "primary is doing it anyway". That's over-simplistic.

There's a danger of complacency?

I do think that. There's an awful lot expected of people in primary now, certainly compared with when I started teaching. There are only 25 teaching hours a week in primary, and that must not be forgotten.

There was talk of mass defection from the EIS after the 2011 pay and conditions deal. Why didn't that happen?

It's a very good question. A number of us have been working very hard to bring solidarity and a common cause, and explain the facts to people who were disaffected. We had been confronted with #163;45 million of cuts. There were difficult decisions to make. The upside is teacher job numbers which have, for the first time in many years, allowed probationer teachers the a chance of a job - some were on temporary contracts for years.

There is still a lot of raw feeling about what happened to supply teachers. Could that have been handled differently?

We had to accept that, if it wasn't supply teachers, where was the cut going to fall? To be honest, there has been a problem. Every day we hear headteachers saying they can't get supply the way they used to. The reality of the situation is that when the rate is cut the way it was, supply was not going to be as attractive for a lot of people.

Is there a chance in some areas of children being sent home?

Teachers are flexible - it's the goodwill of teachers, going the extra mile, that keeps the service running efficiently. At the end of the day, there are young people in their charge and I think that overcomes, "Wait a minute, this is unreasonable." People get on with it, but it's far from ideal.

Can Scottish education cope with the rising number of children with additional support needs (ASN)?

We've asked for resources to be ring-fenced for Getting It Right For Every Child, only to be told that this goes against the spirit of it. I don't agree with that. Unless we get the support for needy and vulnerable students, unless it's resourced, how can you presume mainstream for such a large cohort of pupils without factoring in the effect on the class, demands on the teacher and so on? How are we going to support students in an era when there are fewer ASN teachers and assistants? It's an area where cuts happen, and will happen.

TESS revealed recently that pre-school investment had fallen by as much 40 per cent in some authorities. Is Scottish education really shifting focus to the early years, as we are led to believe?

One issue is that local authorities argue that they have senior early years practitioners, while there is "access to a teacher". Nobody is saying that these practitioners don't do a good job, but that's not the point - they are not trained teachers. And what exactly does the idea of "access to a teacher" mean? Once a month?

What song would be guaranteed to get you on the dance floor at the EIS disco?

All Right Now by Free.

Personal profile

Born: Dundee, 1954

Education: Harris Academy, Dundee; University of Dundee, MA (Hons) psychology; teacher training at Dundee College of EducationUniversity of Dundee

Career: Primary and additional support needs teacher, mostly in Angus, with specialism in dyslexia, currently based in Southmuir Primary School in Kirriemuir; EIS president since yesterday.

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