Secondary teachers took a step closer to industrial action last week when they voted in favour of ballots on two fronts - Curriculum for Excellence and compulsory redundancies.
Delegates at the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) conference voted in favour of an emergency motion to trigger a ballot on industrial action if "sufficient progress" on the curriculum reforms has not been made by June 1.
The motion, proposed by Elaine Henderson from Aberdeenshire, demanded:
l the provision of a list of the core skills to be taught for every subject area;
l the establishment of working groups, comprising experienced classroom teachers, developing core material for each subject;
l unequivocal information on curriculum structures and on the stage at which work for national qualifications will start.
The ballot was necessary, she said, because the results of the two recent surveys on teachers' readiness for CfE showed the SSTA's warnings had been ignored. A work-to-rule was one of a range of possibilities that should be considered, she added.
But Michael O'Kane from Fife warned that since only 27 per cent of SSTA members had replied to the association's CfE survey, it was unlikely that many would be prepared to take industrial action.
The conference, held at Peebles, had earlier heard from Richard Goring, who represents the union on the national implementation group for CfE, that although 100 exemplars were now on the NAR (National Assessment Resource), almost all were related to the broader curricular themes of literacy, numeracy and health and well-being, and very few to more specific subjects.
A separate motion proposed by Ruth French from Aberdeenshire, which expressed concern that some interpretations of CfE were turning it into a "curriculum for mediocrity" rather than excellence, also warned that some teaching methods were being extended beyond their range of effectiveness.
"If pupils are to make real pro- gress, the first three years of secondary should not be seen as a further three years of primary school," Ms French said, reflecting a theme which recurred through-out the two days - defence of secondary teachers' specialist subject knowledge.
She continued: "I am tired of reading in the press that primary schools are doing it anyway and we must become more like them. What are they doing? Interdisciplinary work is the response, but where does it say that CfE equals interdisciplinary work?"
Pamela Templeton from Ayrshire led a motion calling on both the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the Government to protect the status of subject teachers. This was necessary, she said, to alleviate the potential damage resulting from the "blurring of curricular areas in CfE" and from the creation of faculty structures.
Some headteachers, she warned, were telling teachers to teach any subject in their faculty group when sometimes these were quite diverse, determined only by the geographical location of classrooms.
The second call for industrial action was prompted by the prospect of compulsory redundancies. James Forbes from Midlothian, who moved the successful motion, admitted he could detect no appetite for strike action, but urged the association to consider a work-to-rule and a refusal to carry out unpaid overtime.
"It is ridiculous that we are doing so many unpaid hours when new teachers can't get the chance to work," he said.
"For the avoidance of doubt, we are a trade union and not a gentlemen's association. If other colleagues' jobs are threatened today, ours will be threatened tomorrow. That is why we must make it clear at the earliest possible opportunity that we will protect the employment of our members."
Robert McCafferty from the Western Isles said that if teachers stuck to their 35 hours-a-week contract, their employers would realise they needed more teachers, not fewer.
Passing the time
A workload survey by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association has revealed that nearly 54 per cent of those who replied are "gifting" 400 extra hours a year to their employers.
One in 10 teachers works more than 55 hours a week, Ann Ballinger told the conference in her general secretary's report.
Some 78 per cent work more than 40 hours a week; more than 28 per cent between 45 and 50 hours; and 16 per cent between 50 and 55 hours.
The additional workload, coupled with senior managements' refusal to provide staff cover, and behaviour problems, was affecting teachers' stress levels, she said.
One respondent said his headteacher had argued: "Teachers are paid professionals - verbal and physical abuse is part of their job."