Tougher action on class sizes or union will ballot

12th June 2009 at 01:00
The annual conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland held in Perth last week

Scotland's largest teaching union has voted to ballot its members on industrial action in a bid to force the Scottish Government and local authorities to take tougher action on class-size reduction and the safeguarding of education budgets.

Although similar calls by EIS conferences have been ignored by the union's leadership in the past, delegates at this year's annual general meeting in Perth voted overwhelmingly in favour of mounting a campaign, including industrial action, to secure a statutory class-size maximum of 20 across all stages.

A spokesman said: "This indicates that Scottish teachers feel let down. Promises have been made and the progress has been limited. Some authorities have refused to work towards their commitments, in defiance of the Scottish Government's stated aims and the concordat that local authorities freely entered into. The message to the Scottish Government and authorities is clear - teachers expect the promises made to them on class sizes to be kept and will do everything possible to hold our political leaders to account."

Industrial action was needed, said South Lanarkshire delegate Andrew Fullwood, because it was "probably the thing we have not tried so far".

Renfrewshire Council had dropped its commitment to a maximum of 20 per class for maths and English in S1-2. The union should be mounting a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Scottish people - that "20 is plenty", he said.

However, Robin Irvine, president of the Renfrewshire local association, warned delegates that they could end up with egg on their faces. Teachers in his authority had failed to back industrial action to protect the class-size maxima of 20 for English and maths in S1-2.

East Renfrewshire delegates Addie Thomson and Steven Davidson cautioned the conference that the class-size maximum had to have statutory backing, otherwise authorities would not be able to resist parental placing requests.

The EIS moves follow an admission last month by the Scottish Government that it was considering whether legislation was necessary to cut class sizes in line with its target of 18 for P1-3. Delegates backed a separate motion calling for a national demonstration and a ballot for industrial action to prevent cuts in education spending.

Local association secretary Willie Hart said Glasgow had seen a cut of pound;9.1 million in education this year and would see a further cut of pound;10.1m next session. This year, examples included pound;220 less per teacher for CPD activities; classroom supplies budgets down frompound;2,214 to pound;865 in one school; an English department's spending halved; and a business studies department reducing paper size to save money.

"We are not trimming the fat, but cutting into the real meat of education. We know that teachers can use alchemy to produce great results, but it will take more than that in the present situation," he said. "Unless we take action, it won't be A Curriculum for Excellence but a curriculum for ignorance, or no curriculum at all."

Bob Fotheringham, also from Glasgow, said the EIS had made a mistake in not giving its full backing to parents resisting primary closures, because "when the cuts come, we will want these parents behind us".

Key issues

Scottish Borders

Kay Miller, a primary teacher and EIS local association secretary, was worried about cuts. "After they have paid for photocopying for NAB tests, department heads have been telling us they don't have any funds left for materials and text books. They are having to ask the kids to bring in money to pay for photocopying." She also reported that the number of principal teachers in the authority was being "slashed by 30-40 per cent", and every secondary had to lose a depute head or find pound;56,000.

Sandra McLean, a secondary teacher, said: "A Curriculum for Excellence has been rushed. There has been little consultation time and we have the additional problem in the Borders with Transforming Children's Services coming in."

Dundee

Kevin Nolan, a secondary teacher, said: "There are two main questions: will there be the funding for the necessary CPD to deliver A Curriculum for Excellence and what are the instruments of assessment to be? There is also the issue of how the new qualifications will articulate with higher education. Will a Scottish Higher taken over two years have the same currency as a Scottish Higher achieved over one year? There are too many unanswered questions."

Fife

Class-size reductions had been on the agenda for the past decade. It was time for the Scottish Government to "take a stronger line" and "fund the whole package", said David Farmer, a secondary teacher. "There have been reductions but that's been patchy across Scotland," he said. "Now some local authorities are so cash-strapped they can hardly find the funding."

South Lanarkshire

Henry Kilgour, a secondary teacher, said: "My main concern is how we are going to fund A Curriculum for Excellence. To take on any new development, you need backing and support systems. With the financial climate as it is, will it be there?"

June Nixon, an early years teacher, said: "My main issue is the repeal of the section of the 1918 Education Act that refers to denominational schools. Motions have been passed before, but there has been very limited progress. If any denomination wishes to have their own schools, they should pay for them. We should no longer have private education paid for by the public purse."

Gwen Currie, a primary teacher, said: "We have two probationers at my school and they have done a wonderful job and worked so hard all year. Neither of them has anything in the way of a job at the moment, though, and there's not much prospect of that changing. If they are lucky they might get supply, but I know one is going back to the job they had before, working in a jewellery shop. These are the people who have done A Curriculum for Excellence and these are the very people who are not going to be in schools."

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