Hundreds walk out over secondary school cuts

16th January 2015 at 00:00
Action believed to be Scotland’s first ever local teachers’ strike

Hundreds of secondary teachers in West Dunbartonshire were out on strike on Tuesday over council plans to save £600,000 by restructuring the management of the authority’s five secondary schools.

The protest is thought to be the first of its kind, in that there has never before been a strike in one local authority area alone. Nationally, Scottish teachers haven’t been on strike in 30 years, barring one day of action over pensions in 2011.

Here, TESS gives an overview of the circumstances that have led to the action.

So, what has driven West Dunbartonshire teachers to vote for strike action?

The council is looking to make £600,000 of cuts to the education budget by scrapping four depute head posts, reducing pastoral staff and moving to a faculty structure in secondary schools.

The new structure will result in up to four subjects being grouped together under one faculty head, or “curricular leader” as they are to be known in West Dunbartonshire.

The West Dunbartonshire faculties have been designed to match curricular areas within the Curriculum for Excellence. For example, PE and home economics will be grouped together in the health and wellbeing faculty, and English and languages will be placed together in some schools under the banner of literacy.

When does the council plan to introduce the changes?

The council was looking to introduce faculties by May 2016; the depute head posts have already been removed. That happened in August and is expected to save £273,367 in the first year.

The EIS teaching union objected to this move but said it accepted that the saving was necessary. It is determined, however, that the rest of the plan will not go ahead.

How many West Dunbartonshire teachers voted to strike?

The vast majority of teachers are in the EIS; around 360 out of roughly 460 secondary staff. The turnout for the ballot was just over 60 per cent and 88.2 per cent voted for industrial action; 11.8 per cent voted no.

Faculties exist in other schools, don’t they?

Yes, but the EIS argues that the model does not work. It says that faculty leaders rely heavily on unpromoted staff to advise them and to take on management responsibilities for their subjects.

Basically, if a faculty seems to be running successfully, it is down to unacceptable workload taken on by faculty leaders, and the goodwill of teachers, the union claims.

The EIS also argues that at a time of curricular change, it is essential that the expert knowledge of principal teachers is not lost.

What does West Dunbartonshire council say about its plans?

The council claims that even after the changes to the management structure are made, it will have a more generous management structure than other similar Scottish authorities that have converted to faculties.

It also argues that there will still be the same number of teachers in the authority’s five secondary schools, undertaking the same amount of work, with the same amount of non-contact time.

It is unfair, the councils adds, for the EIS to strike over the introduction of faculties in West Dunbartonshire when it didn’t object to the structure in other local authority areas.

How many of the area’s principal teachers are affected?

More than 100 principal teachers are affected. Of the 109 in the area, some have opted for early retirement while others will take on the new curricular leader roles. Ultimately, around half-a-dozen principal teachers will be displaced as part of the council’s planned management restructure.

What will happen to them?

They will have their salary conserved for three years, during which time it is possible that they could secure a promoted post. However, the EIS says that the industrial action is not just about displaced staff – it is about the impact that the structure will have on staff once in place.

What do the other teaching unions say?

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association opposes the changes but has no plans to take industrial action.

How unusual is it for Scottish teachers to go on strike?

Very. Other than one day of industrial action in 2011 over pensions, the EIS has not taken such action since 1986. But more industrial action is looming. In December, secondary teachers voted for industrial action over the workload that was associated with the new qualifications. Turnout at the EIS ballot was 43 per cent and 93 per cent were in favour.

Michael Dolan, the EIS local area secretary for West Dunbartonshire, is describing the restructuring of the secondary school management in the area as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Whatever the reasons behind the strike, it is becoming clear that teachers’ goodwill is drying up.


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