Unions are not the enemy, Smith warns Executive

7th January 2000 at 00:00
THE Educational Institute of Scotland's general secretary has denied that the power and dominance of the union is the key target of ministers' education reforms in the coming months.

In a new year message, Ronnie Smith accepted that a "key year" lay ahead but said the Prime Minister's autumn attack on the forces of conservatism did not apply to the EIS. "I do not think teachers in Scotland are a force for conservatism. We are a force for arguing that education change has to be underpinned by proper planning and resources," Mr Smith said.

The union, however, is braced for an onslaught through the Education Bill, reform of the General Teaching Council and the McCrone inquiry into pay, conditions and new school structures, among a raft of intended measures.

Mr Smith cautioned the Scottish Executive to work with teachers, rather than impose change on them and warned the McCrone inquiry not to attempt to solve school pressures by increasing teachers' working hours. Teachers needed a radical review of pay to bring them into line with comparable professionals and matching conditions of service. Workload had to be addressed.

The union's firepower, often threatened but sparingly used, could yet be unleashed later in the year. "There is an awful lot riding on McCrone because there is a lot of dissatisfaction abroad," Mr Smith stressed.

A generation of Scottish pupils had a lot to thank the EIS for, Mr Smith said, not least its campaigns during the Tory years against cuts and more sweeping education reforms. Despite the Executive's commitment to education, there was "still a lot of work to be done to secure the partnership that is much spoken about".

Two key priorities were pay and conditions. "We will argue forcefully that teachers cannot continue to receive increases in pay which are lowerthan those of other equivalent groups. A well motivated, appropriately paid workforce is important to deliver quality teaching," Mr Smith warned.

"Central to the EIS submission to the McCrone inquiry on teachers' workload and on the changing nature of the teacher's job will be the expectation that future conditions of service reflect properly the nature of the job in the year 2000.

"Any outcome cannot be on the basis of an increase teachers' hours of work and on unworkable new structures for schools. The outcome must properly reflect the real needs of schools, teachers and pupils in 2000. It means acknowledging that teacher professionalism lies at the heart of the work of schools."

The union is repeating its call for cuts in class sizes at all stages, not just the first three years of primary. "The notion that you can do justice to a class of 30-odd pupils given the demands for individually tailored tutoring, more detailed reporting, more negotiated work with pupils, makes a nonsense of groups of that size," he said. Smaller classes would make a major difference to quality and standards.

Picking up a familiar refrain, Mr Smith said stress and workload were at unacceptable levels. Either the Executive had to limit its expectations or recruit more teachers. Some 625 calls were made to the union's two helplines last year - 242 were about stress and 383 on legal issues.

"There is a feeling that teachers are under particular pressures and there is a degree of scapegoating going on," he said. "Perpetual and under-resourced changes, together with a continuing blame culture towards teachers, are taking their toll."

Initiatives should carry a "human resource impact assessment". Employers had largely abandoned staff welfare services because of financial constraints. Gerry McCann

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