Teachers on alert for attacks against them

18th June 2010 at 01:00
Education cuts, current and future, dominated this year's annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland. On these pages The TESS reports on the issues that provoked debate among members of Scotland's largest teachers' union

The leader of Scotland's largest teaching union has warned his members they are about to enter "a very long, dark tunnel" which will test them "to a degree that few will ever have experienced".

Warning that the "politics of the pavement" had its limitations, Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, put his members on notice to expect attacks on pay, pensions, conditions of service and jobs.

Describing the current agenda as "wholly cuts-driven", he warned of the "competition among political parties to see how far and how fast they can go in adopting measures to reduce the deficit in public finances".

He told delegates at the union's annual general meeting in Dundee: "I am unsure how well or widely understood is the scale of challenge we face in the coming period."

As the country entered a period of extreme austerity, the EIS would have to forge alliances with parents, and other trade unions.

But it would also have to make difficult decisions, such as: "When, and in what ways, and on what issues do we adopt an industrial response?"

The EIS recognised that the economic crisis would cause problems for public finances, but it did not accept that public spending was the cause of, or contributed to, the crisis.

"Yet, almost by stealth, we in the public sector are being fingered as the problem. The budget deficit has to be tackled and the public debt run down as fast as possible in order to satisfy the markets. So our wages are too high, our pensions too generous, our holidays too long," he said.

The ground was being laid in all sorts of ways for attacks on teachers, he warned.

Teacher unions should expect a hard time in the next pay round because they had declined Cosla's "kind invitation" to forego the 2.4 per cent April pay rise which was part of their last three-year agreement, at a time when inflation was riding at a 19-year high of 5.3 per cent.

The clarion call would be "more for less". That would mean growing class sizes so more pupils can be taught by fewer teachers, and diluting professional staff and replacing them with cheaper substitutes.

Mr Smith went on to attack local councillors' failure to speak up in public for education services.

"I can't recall when I last heard a councillor actually speak up for education, and as for Cosla, I don't know who speaks on education, far less for it," he said.

All he heard from local government was "a half-baked idea" in East Lothian for so-called "trust schools".

"If local government is serious about being a tier of government, rather than local administration, it needs to get off its knees and start to fight for the communities whose interests they are supposed to represent and the services, the vital public services, they are trusted to provide," he added.

The EIS wanted to believe in and give support to local government, but the performance of too many councils was eroding confidence in many quarters.

"If they are to be little more than agents of blanket cuts across services, avoiding the adoption of any political priorities, withdrawing from central support for schools, cutting schools loose to fend for themselves, there may be better models of school organisation available," he said.

- The full text of Ronnie Smith's speech is available at www.tes.co.ukeis


Emma Seith asked a cross-section of delegates at the conference to identify what the main issue is for them

Isaac McCleary RE teacher, North Lanarkshire

I have a probationer in my department who is excellent. She has had a fabulous year in the school, but her overwhelming concern is she may have to return to work at Asda to get some form of employment, because there are no jobs in her subject, RE. My major concern is that we are losing and discouraging enthusiastic, talented and committed teachers. That can only be detrimental to Scottish education.

Margaret Rideout Nursery teacher, Falkirk

If the curriculum is 3-18, why is nursery education not statutory? There would have to be a sufficient number of teachers - no bad thing - and children, who don't all come regularly to nursery at the moment, would get the benefit. I wouldn't be looking for them to come for a full day; half a day would be fine.

Kate MacDonald Art teacher, Western Isles

It was important that we didn't vote to boycott Curriculum for Excellence. If we had done that, I think it would have handed control back to management. Instead, we have asked the EIS council to consider the option of teachers working to contract, which will allow us to take control and exercise our industrial strength. Money, time and training are all necessary if we are to implement the new curriculum.

Jayne Rowe Primary teacher, Glasgow

Budget cuts are the biggest issue affecting Scottish education just now. Resources in school are scarce. In my own school, by Christmas we had no jotters and now we are out of pencils and other core materials. Teachers are buying their own - we're keeping Poundland going. Staffing is also being squeezed. Pupil support assistants are leaving and not being replaced.

Mark Traynor Music instructor, West Lothian

There has been one compulsory redundancy of a music instructor. My concern is the potential domino effect if authorities start to see instrumental instructors as a target. From music, kids learn to work together towards a common goal, about deadlines if you are preparing for a concert, and discipline. They get enjoyment out of it and they give back to their communities. It's Curriculum for Excellence full stop.

Also from the EIS conference:
Work to contract agreed on CfE implementation
Vote to ballot for one-day strike


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