Sometimes the profession can benefit from disagreement

20th April 2012 at 01:00
There is more than one voice in teaching, so one union cannot speak for them all

In his last regular column for TESS, Larry Flanagan looked forward to his role as EIS general secretary. I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate him on his appointment but also to take issue with a comment he made.

In his piece, he succinctly summarised a number of the key challenges facing the profession - and him in his new job. At the end, he highlighted the strength of the union movement in education and, in noting the number of teaching unions, suggested "the need for so many bodies is an area for debate itself". I believe that debate has already happened.

Without seeking exact figures, it seems reasonable to suggest that the thousands of classroom teachers and promoted staff who have elected to join unions other than his have chosen to do so because the union of their choice aligns most closely with their role andor values. I believe it is important that different viewpoints are heard and not subsumed in one voice for all teachers - sometimes all interests will speak with one voice, at other times disagreement is necessary.

A current instance of different perspectives being held by different parts of the profession would be in relation to the McCormac report's recommendation that reduced class contact time could be rolled together over a period longer than a week, such as a month or a term, and be taken as a block. Class teacher unions expressed concerns that there would be no benefit to be had from this, for teachers or pupils, and that it would be an erosion of teachers' rights in favour of headteacher control.

The AHDS position is quite different. We believe there would be genuine value for schools and for teachers in having a more flexible approach. It could allow a teacher in a P1 class to have a greater reduction in contact time in the early part of the year to deal with the additional paperwork and parental contact required. It could also allow a P7 teacher more non- contact time near the end of the session to help with the burdens of preparing P7 profiles. If teachers were happy to be more flexible with non-contact time (and many already are), then it would allow heads to deal more effectively with staff absences and other unforeseen circumstances without the imperative of a set period of non-contact time to be delivered each week.

Teachers have different views and interests, depending on their values and their role. This is reflected in the range of unions open to them. Without question, the EIS has an enviable strength of membership when compared to any of the other unions, but having options for union membership - and, consequently, different voices in the system - is healthy for the profession and for Scottish education.

Greg Dempster is general secretary of the AHDS.

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