Unity is watchword in the face of cuts

20th May 2011 at 01:00

It's the start of the union season, with the NASUWT meeting in Edinburgh last week and the SSTA in the Borders (pages 6-7). The atmosphere in Peebles was remarkably congenial and "hail, brother (or sister), well met" - even towards EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith, when he attended the dinner as president of ETUCE, the European Trade Union Committee for Education; during the day he was portrayed as the arch-fiend who settled for a national two-year pay freeze and cuts to various sectors' pay and conditions. There was little of the heated argument that might be expected in times of industrial unrest; in its stead, a clear voice of unanimity, whether on court action against employers for discrimination or the lack of external assessment for National 4 courses.

Above all, support was voiced for supply teachers, whose rate of pay will be cut from August. If there is one group that feels totally betrayed by last month's pay deal, they are it (News Focus, pages 12-15). The job was difficult enough before, when some supply teachers felt they were "treated like you're nothing"; now self-esteem is at an all-time low as they appear to be valued less than the "teacher in the next-door classroom". It doesn't seem right when you read the headteachers' appreciation of supply staff who get them out of difficult situations: the retired ones bring in years of experience, they say, while the newly-qualified ones bring so much enthusiasm - "that's a good mix and it gives the school added value".

The problem, of course, is the saturated market. As past governments overestimated the number of teachers required and the teacher education institutes poured out trainees as instructed, the pool of supply just deepened. It can be no comfort for those individuals who feel they are drowning to hear the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland general secretary, John Stodter, point out that yet more teachers may be available as authorities reduce the number they employ. Even the most positive heads concede that the impact on schools of the pay cut for supply will be minimal: "probationers want to keep their hand in".

So, for the unions, the battle rages on. The SSTA and NASUWT will push ahead with their court cases and consider industrial action short of strikes. The EIS will be preparing itself for an onslaught of criticism from its own members next month, while its harshest critics peel off to other unions (page 6). For the politicians, it's time to move on. Last week, the money was on Michael Russell for Education Secretary, and then there were rumours that Nicola Sturgeon might take over; Keith Brown was also in the running. The answer will be known by the time this magazine hits the newsstands. We shall, as they say, have to see what tomorrow brings.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor - gillian.macdonald@tes.co.uk.

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