The Educational Institute of Scotland is a member-led, democratic organisation that is steadfastly committed to the promotion of equality, including LGBTI+ equality, for all teachers, lecturers and young people in all educational establishments and, indeed, is committed to the promotion of equality within wider society as a whole.
At our 2015 AGM, two important resolutions that focused on addressing LGBT equality received the unanimous backing of delegates.
One of these is particularly relevant in the context of the recent discourse conducted in some print and social media around the petition for the statutory teaching of LGBTI+ issues, recently submitted to the Scottish Parliament by the TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) campaign.
The EIS AGM fully backed the terms of the motion, resolving to support LGBT staff, pupils and students by working in partnership with stakeholders as appropriate to ensure that all establishments develop and implement policies on homophobic and transphobic bullying, and by ensuring that the needs of LGBT learners are considered during curricular planning, work experience and school / college partnerships.
Clearly, we share the concerns of the TIE campaign as articulated in its petition. Prejudice and discrimination of any kind are completely unacceptable and must be challenged wherever they occur, including in Scotland’s schools and colleges.
In addition, and preferable to simply reacting to incidences of prejudice-based bullying, whether it be motivated by homophobia or racism or intolerance of disability, is the need for prevention of the attitudes of intolerance through carefully selected curricular inputs - in essence, equality education.
At the November meeting of the EIS LGBT Network - an informal network of union members which advises the EIS National Equality Committee on LGBT matters - Jordan Daly of TIE was invited to deliver a presentation on the work of the campaign, it having been thought that the two organisations may be able to work together.
The EIS has been a long-standing partner of organisations such as Stonewall, for example, having delivered a joint conference on homophobic bullying in schools with them only last year. A significant part of the discussion at the Network meeting focused on the parliamentary petition and the existing EIS policy position in relation to the issues raised within it.
Significant areas of common ground shared by EIS and TIE were mutually acknowledged and it was made clear that these would be echoed in the EIS response to the Parliamentary Petitions Committee.
At the same time, Mr Daly accepted that the alteration of existing policy within the Institute could not occur without the democratic assent of the membership, sought through due democratic process by putting motions for debate either to EIS Council or AGM.
Where EIS policy, as democratically determined by the membership, currently differs from the TIE campaign is in relation to how we tackle homophobia within education, how we genuinely ensure that the curriculum is designed to meet the needs of all learners and how we ensure that teachers are skilled and confident in their delivery of Equality education, including that which specifically relates to LGBTI+ issues.
With regards to curriculum content and design, current EIS policy does not favour prescription. We are absolutely convinced that the curriculum must address equality matters and, indeed embody a commitment to equality, as the Curriculum for Excellence framework does.
The EIS view is that teachers, as well-trained, reflective professionals who work collegiately with their colleagues and in partnership with parents and the wider community, are best placed to respond to the learning needs of their pupils and students in a way that will ensure relevance of curricular content and therefore the engagement of learners with it.
Precise content and the method of delivery of the curriculum, according to existing EIS policy, should be a matter for teacher professional judgement, taking all of these factors, complex and sometimes sensitive as they are, into account.
As stated in our submission to the Scottish Parliamentary Petitions Committee, the EIS recognises the importance of consultation with parents in the delivery of the curriculum. Meaningful partnership working of this kind is dependent on there being an understanding among teachers of the diversity of religious and moral views held by parents and carers.
There is no question of the need for good professional learning opportunities to be available for teachers to address any such sensitivity which might present itself in relation to the delivery of any aspect of the curriculum, and particularly those areas around which sensitivities may be predicted.
For the most part, the EIS has not supported mandatory Continuing Professional Development for teachers. Existing EIS policy views teachers as professionals who ought to have agency in identifying their own professional learning needs and in seeking the best means by which to address these.
In the EIS submission on the TIE campaign petition, we highlighted the frustration of our members that often in seeking to pursue professional learning interests, cuts to local authority and school budgets have meant that barriers to professional learning exist. We do not accept that this should remain the case.
The EIS campaigns continuously against such cuts and is emphatic in expressing the view to national and local government that essential to teacher professionalism in any area of education, including equality education, is investment in high quality professional learning.
To reiterate the sentiment of the two AGM resolutions addressing LGBT matters, the EIS is committed to partnership working with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the needs of LGBT pupils, students and staff are met in all of Scotland’s educational establishments.