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EIS President Addresses the AGM

Good afternoon Colleagues, Guests, Friends and Family.

Welcome to the 171st Annual General Meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland in Perth. Thanks to the Provost of Perth and Kinross for your kind words of welcome on behalf of the council, the citizens of the Fair City and of Perth and Kinross.

I am honoured and delighted to have served as EIS President this year and hope that I have represented you well.

I trust that members of Executive Committee and Council feel that their voices have been heard at our meetings and that all delegates, should they be speaking for the first or, indeed for some delegates, for the last time in our debates over the next 3 days, will be made to feel welcome and their contributions, however short, are valued by everyone.

I must thank the staff and officials at HQ for their patience, encouragement and above all their support which has been given to me over the last 2 years.

Until you are involved at this level in the union, you are unaware of the vast amount of work which is undertaken by everyone in Moray Place and the EIS area Offices, on a daily basis, all the paperwork they have to prepare, the travel arrangements to be made etc.

Thank you to my Local Authority, Falkirk Council and Children's Services, in particular, for their overwhelming support in backing my nomination for Vice President and President and giving the Local Association the facility time for me to carry out these roles.

Thanks to Falkirk Local Association for the Nomination and supporting me through the last 2 years.

I would like to thank the recent Past Presidents for their help and advice and to Tommy Castles, Pat Flanagan and Nicola Fisher as fellow Office Bearers for their support and help over the last 2 years.

May I take this opportunity to wish Nicola and Alison my very best wishes in their year of Office as President and Vice President for session 2017-18.

Most of all I would like to thank my family and friends for putting up with me through these times – for being there for me – propping me up when I was doubting myself, for putting up with my full - on diary - having to cancel nights out with friends at the last minute.

I am grateful to my parents who believed in giving the family a good solid education and supported us through school and college.

We were lucky to have been coming through the system when we did and that we were able to stay on in school until 6th year, to come through the comprehensive system, to access higher education with grants and to have the opportunity to further our education through life - long learning opportunities.

My daughter Heather, my son in law Stuart and my Granddaughter Skye Rose also deserve my thanks for their support and also for looking after the house and the dog whilst I have been away.

Ian, my husband is now going to feel so embarrassed that I am thanking him from the platform, but without his love, his understanding, his backing and his support I could not have taken on the role of President of the EIS.

My sincere thanks to everyone.

My year as National President has passed very quickly and most of that due to the busy schedule unfolding over the year.

One event, however, has dominated the headlines since we last gathered in Dundee and that is of course Brexit and its consequences. On 29 March 2017, the Prime Minister triggered Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty thereby initiating the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Health and safety protections and our hard won employment rights protections will now be at risk during these Brexit negotiations.  While the previous government set out its intention in a White Paper to transfer all existing health and safety protections from EU law to UK law, there are no guarantees that this will actually happen.

Whoever wins the General Election today and begins the Brexit negotiations in just 11 days' time, there must be firm commitments written into any final agreement to safeguard EU standards for workplace health and safety in the UK.

There also has to be a cast iron guarantee to transfer current protections from EU law to UK law.

In addition, the next Government must very quickly end the uncertainty for certain workers by confirming that it will give current EU migrants a right to remain in the UK after Brexit. 

These colleagues work beside us on a daily basis in our nurseries, our schools, our colleges and our universities. The current uncertainty is hugely worrying for these EIS members and their families who have made Scotland their home. 

A decision on their futures must be made swiftly and these members should not be used as bargaining chips in the forthcoming discussions.

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of being an Office Bearer of the EIS  is going out to Local Associations, meeting members, speaking at Local Association AGMs, visiting schools and being in the classroom.

Thanks to all LAs who have organised visits, the wonderful welcome and hospitality received. One of the most memorable was to Stirling Local Association, to the village school in Plean- a school where I was the Nursery teacher for 9 happy years.

The old school has been replaced by a wonderful, light new building, but the warm, welcome, caring ethos within the school still remains – a school with the community at its heart.

It pleased me greatly to see that the council had been able to preserve the stone name plate and had it installed inside the new school. I took a small photo album, presented to me when I left.

3 members of staff who were there at the time are still there and able to recognise the pupils – in fact some now were parents of pupils in the school – I hasten to add in the early years!

Some of the staff asked if I miss being in the classroom  – I had to honestly say that I am enjoying what I do now – a far cry from the classroom and the Nursery – I do miss the things young children say and observations they make about you – your latest haircut, your clothes and of course, your new shoes.

The year also involves meetings with Education spokespeople from all political parties in Scottish Government.

They certainly gave us time and listened to what we said but whether or not they heard what we were saying is another matter.

I believe that our views, the views of the EIS membership, are highly regarded and respected – mainly because, in my opinion, we represent 80% of the teaching profession and are involved in Education from Nursery, Primary, Secondary, Special, Further and Higher Education – able to give a complete picture of Scottish Education from the practitioners’ points of view.

I just wished they would give teachers time to embed changes before more changes are made – Education is not a football to be kicked around the playground at Holyrood – our pupils and students matter to us. We would not be in the profession if they didn’t matter to us.

We were also represented at all Political Party conferences – either holding lunchtime fringes or through our stalls in their exhibitors areas.

These events are important for the Institute because it is through participating in them that we hear views from their activists about Scottish Education and what matters to them. Also, more importantly, we take the opportunity to express to them what matters to teachers in the classroom.

The Institute responded to the Governance Review – submitting a sizeable document as expected. It was felt that, at the time of submission the Government’s Consultation Document was a very open one -  it was challenging but suggested that nothing had been pre - determined, there were no specific proposals to which we could directly respond.

It was, and remains our view, that this was an initial consultation and once more specific proposals emerge, we hope that there will be scope for future more detailed dialogue.

The Institute plays a role in the TUC and this year sent a sizeable delegation to Brighton and put 2 motions to congress, both were well received by the delegates.

We also have a presence on STUC with 3 members on Council – a great honour for 2016-17 both for the Institute and on a personal level was that our own Helen Connor was elected as President and I believe her classroom skills and class management skills were well used at congress in Aviemore!

I am only sorry that I was unable to attend congress this year as Delegation Leader due to a family bereavement. I am grateful for the support received from Headquarters during this difficult time for our family.  I know that Nicola as VP, more than filled my shoes.

I have been honoured to represent the EIS at other Teacher Trade Union conferences – at Stirling, Newcastle County Down, Belfast, Crieff, Liverpool and Cardiff.

Common themes emerge at the conferences – pay, conditions of service, teacher shortages, trust in the profession, workload and pensions.

Nicola, Larry and I travelled to Belgrade in December for the ETUCE conference and again similar themes emerged and discussed by our colleagues across Europe.

As President, I have been able to attend all committees and sub committees of the Institute and see the vast amount of work undertaken by each.

This work is, of course, generated by the AGM resolutions, so what we decide over the next 3 days informs the work of the Institute for next session.

I have also attended as many of the ULA and FELA Executive meetings as I could and had the honour of speaking at their Annual conferences.

Through my attendance at these meetings I feel that I have gained so much insight into the workings of the Self - Governing Associations and into the problems they are facing. Part time contracts, zero hours contracts, class contact, preparation and marking time, which University lecturers can and cannot do research – to name but a few.

This session FELA lecturers have been very much in the news and rightly so.

Last year they struck a deal with the employers and up to now the pay element which should have been paid out on 1st April. A year on and it has still not been paid out.

The FELA negotiators were tireless and gave every opportunity to management to Honour The Deal.

I have been on the picket line at my local college Forth Valley and witnessed, both in person and through social media, the growth in numbers on the picket lines outside the colleges across the country, from Galashiels to Stornoway from weeks 1 and 2 and onwards - more lecturers out demonstrating and angry at the way they are being treated.

Students were angry and backed their lecturers. The Executive Committee and Council gave their backing to the dispute, Local Associations sent messages of support.

There were a number of Rallies across the country, some of which I was able to attend. They were noisy, well attended and I think that Scottish Politicians in Holyrood, the general public and tourists were under no illusion that the lecturers are united in their cause.

In the early hours of Friday 19th May the negotiators had failed to agree but agreed to meet again at 10am, all day the negotiations went on and at about 5pm, whilst at the SSTA Congress in Crieff, a message came through saying that a deal had been struck.

Such a relief for all round. The negotiators, led by John Kelly, EIS-FELA President and Pam Currie EIS-FELA Vice-President were tireless. Our serving officials Assistant Secretary David Belsey and the General Secretary were tireless – they fought and they won.

A very noisy, well attended rally was held in George Square, Glasgow, on 20th May. It had a very different mood from the previous Rallies – smiles all around - even smiles from the tired worn out face of the negotiators.

FELA have certainly held the banners high, made their voices heard and have set down markers for any dispute within the Institute and indeed for the wider trade union movement.

In the local EIS office in Falkirk, we have a poster which states United we bargain - Divided we beg – FELA have truly fulfilled this sentiment and set us all an example of collectivism, building a campaign, building confidence in members to carry out the campaign, building belief that the campaign would end in success  – our unity is our strength.

We as activists, school reps and members of the EIS must help to inform our members and help them to understand the impact the Trade Union Act, brought in this year, will have on our ballots and trade Union activities – We need to ensure very high numbers take part in ballots and of that high number there must be a high percentage voting in favour of the action.

It won’t be an easy task, but those of us as Local Association Secretaries, and more importantly, those of you who have everyday face to face contact with members will need to explain the importance of taking part in a ballot - otherwise any action required will just not happen – members will then be asking what are the Union doing about this – Colleagues - We are the Union.

Not the General Secretary - Not the staff in Moray Place – Us – the paying members.

Since becoming the EIS President last June, we have launched some extremely useful resources for LNCTs and schools.

Sustain the Ambition was launched at the Headteachers' conference in Edinburgh – an independent and comprehensive research project by Professor Aline Wendy Dunlop at Strathclyde University, funded by the EIS, it confirms the importance of maintaining a registered teacher workforce in all pre- school settings.

Employing the skills and leadership of qualified teachers is and always has been the best way to ensure that children’s educational experience is of the best quality and early exposure to a quality learning experience has many benefits many of which last long term. 

We are all aware that the Curriculum for Excellence is, and should be a seamless curricular model spanning the age range of 3 – 18 and therefore our youngest learners should receive quality teacher involvement which enhances their learning experiences and provides continuity into school.

Early interventions are essential building blocks which help to minimise the impact of poverty on our youngest learners educational outcomes both in Early Years and beyond.

This research is of great importance and raises awareness to all EIS members of the valuable work and unique contribution made by Nursery teachers in all Pre school settings across Scotland.

I am a Nursery teacher with over 25 years experience in pre school - extremely passionate about early learning through play, by providing appropriate activities for the age and stage of the children, by following the childrens' interests  – it is not a watered down P1.

The Myths of Immigration booklets were launched at Holyrood and have been extremely well received by schools. Much to my delight, not long after the launch date, when visiting a local Primary school, I saw a well - thumbed booklet on a staffroom table.

At the recent BME engagement event the booklets were the subject of one of the workshops. In schools we need to be using these booklets with our pupils to tackle the myths of immigration, break down barriers and give staff the confidence to tackle racist remarks made to staff and pupils alike.

Our BME colleagues cannot and should not accept comments directed to them as part of life, accepted as the norm – we need to eradicate this abuse from our schools, our communities and society as a whole.

We need to work with Initial Teacher Education to ensure that students, as part of their courses, receive Equalities training and that staff in schools receive training on a regular basis and indeed we will be addressing this as we move through our debates over the next 3 days.

My first duty as President was to chair the launch of Getting it Right for Girls. It was a great honour and privilege to do this at the Glasgow Women’s Library – a most appropriate venue.

This booklet gives us a resource to use in schools, to use as a starting point in discussions at branch level, raise emerging issues with management, review school policies and practice, gives us confidence and advice to tackle misogynistic attitudes and language which surrounds us daily through songs, adverts and comments.

Let’s be clear colleagues, - misogyny has no place in society, in our schools or in the lives of our young people and by getting it right for girls we will hopefully get it right for boys and get it right for the whole of our society.

Clearly the launch of Getting it right for Girls has highlighted some statistics which show that in public life there is a clear under representation of women – as an example only 29% of MPs and fewer than 35% of MSPs in Scotland are female.

In the teaching profession in 2015, according to the teacher census Primary teachers of all grades - 91% were female with 9% male, whist in Secondary teachers all grades 63% female to 37% male.

However, the data on promoted posts did not reflect this proportionately – HT in Primary were 87% female to 13% male and in secondary there was a 40% to 60% in favour of male HTs.

As a union, we are very conscious of the need for gender balance on committees/sub committees and the Appointments Panel.

Local Association Secretaries are regularly asked about the gender balance on their Executive Committees/Board of Managements and AGM delegations.

As a matter of interest and for research for my speech today, I decided to go through some of the archived SEJ’s from a few years ago – I picked out a couple of years which were relevant to myself – 1968 – the year I went from Primary to secondary Education, 1974, the year I left school and went to Callendar Park College, in Falkirk, to start my teacher Training.

In 1968 the Principal of Callendar Park College was Elizabeth Leggat.  A brief report appeared in the Journal of her speech at the diploma presentation ceremony.

She stated, ‘In education the journey was of greater importance than the destination and it was the means more than the end which would enable pupils to come to terms with life’ – Was Miss Leggat looking into her crystal ball and saw a vision of what the Curriculum for Excellence was intended to be?

The 122nd AGM was held in the Music Hall in George St Edinburgh – the first time since 1924 that the AGM hadn’t been held in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall on the Mound. Motions debated that year included – Conditions of Service, Free School Milk Provision, Affiliation to STUC, Religious Education and, of course, Salaries.

The President that year was Miss Helen Hyndman Dewar and in her speech at the opening ceremony, said – ‘While teachers strive to provide a better education service, society, which reaps the benefit, will have to reappraise the value it sets on teachers.’ – Colleagues – sadly 49 years later I could be repeating that very same sentiment here today.

Miss Hyndman Dewar also highlighted that it was essential to recruit more graduates and teachers of practical and aesthetic subjects and particularly to encourage able pupils to enter such courses for teaching now.

The EIS was forecasting a shortage of teachers in the early 70’s.  By 11 votes to 3 the National Executive resolved to welcome the deferment of the raising of the school leaving age until 1972/73 but because of the lack of reliable facts on future teacher supply, had reservations as to whether this date would be practicable.

Teacher shortage is still an issue as we all know, but perhaps not in the same subject areas – they are now across the board.

How do we encourage more to enter and remain in the profession? Politicians -  ask us we can give you the answers -  pay us as professionals, treat us as professionals and as the debate on Conditions of service in 1968 reported – Teachers should be able to concentrate on their professional tasks – Make time for Teaching.

A survey of salary positions in Britain, in 1968 showed that for the previous 50 years, teachers had achieved a considerably smaller increase in their standard of living than most other groups of workers.

The salaries offer that year was for 5.5% over 2 years. Recently, as we all know our pay increases have been 1% or 2.5% over 2 years. I found a payslip from 2011 and compared it with one from this session – although the gross figure was smaller, with all the increases in pension contributions and National Insurance my take home pay was quite a few pounds less.

Sad to say, but, not unexpectedly, the debates in 1968 on motions were led by men. Interestingly, 22 Fellowships of the Institute were awarded that year but of those only 3 were awarded to women.

A series of black and white photos displayed around Moray Place, show that there were a vast number of women  present at AGMs and out on demonstrations, happy to participate to a degree in union activities – I suppose that the attitudes to participation of women was very different to today.

Thank goodness for strong women breaking through the barriers placed in front of them by societal attitudes and paving the way forward for those of us here today, taking an active role in the EIS and giving women the confidence to take on more roles within the union.

This coming session 3 women Office Bearers, 2 out of 4 of our committee convenors are women and 2 of our 3 Assistant Secretaries are women.

Moving ahead to 1974, the year I started teacher training – At a Special General meeting that year the EIS requested that the Secretary of State for Scotland appoint a working party to look at the Pay, Terms and Conditions of Service of teachers.

There was a work to rule outlining 5 principles on Workload, - the first of which was to set a limit of 40 children in class. This action was successful and Local authorities were persuaded to accept. The result was improved conditions for many overworked teachers.

Gilbert Bryden retired after 14 years as General Secretary of the Institute. The President was Alex Russell and the AGM was held in the MacRobert Centre in Stirling.

Motions again included salaries - of course, class sizes, conditions of service, maximum class contact time. There was a call to cut class sizes to 25. A call for a 5 hour day, with 1 hour for preparation and correction, 190 days - including INSET days and interestingly a difference in class contact for promoted staff in Primary and Secondary.

Class teachers in both sectors maximum of 20 hours class contact but -  AHTs in secondary 13 hours, Primary 16, and DHTs in Secondary 5 hours but in Primary 10 hours. 

There was a call for teachers to be able to retire at 55.

In his opening speech, the President Alex Russell said, 'There was a need for teachers of quality in quantity!' Again colleagues what has changed? Why were people not attracted to the profession then and why are they not attracted to the profession now? (Answers on a postcard!)

The FEIS awarded that year were 26 and only of these 4 were to women. I was interested to note that Dr Bain, Head of the Education Department at Callendar Park College received a Fellowship for his thesis.

I am delighted to report that more women were appearing in the report on AGM debates.

For those who like a bit of trivia - adverts appearing in the SEJ of 1974  - there was a large advert for Fife County Council – all the Rectors of the schools looking for teaching staff were male. Langside College were advertising for a Senior Teacher of PE (Man).

Teachers at that time were still wearing academic gowns and hoods – MA or MSc gowns advertised at £11.50 or I assume a better quality one for £15. Hoods were £8 + 23p postage a packing.

Times have changed since the 60s and 70s – gone are the gowns being worn in school, gone is the use of the Lochgelly, gone is the difference in pay between Primary and Secondary colleagues, gone are the sexist job adverts, to name but a few.

What hasn’t changed - pupils, families, communities, teachers, schools. What remain as issues for us as a profession – just to name a few -the overcrowded curriculum – especially in the Primary school, unnecessary assessments, staff shortages, we ask to be treated as professionals, we ask to be paid as professionals, we feel that there is a lack of trust in teachers as professionals, we ask to use our professional judgement, using our knowledge and our experience of working with the pupils in front of us day after day week after week.

We are a caring profession – We care about the quality of our education system. We care about standards of teachers entering the profession. We care about the quality of the lessons we plan and deliver on a daily basis.

We care about the outcomes for our learners of all ages. We care about the families we work with and the communities in which we work. We care about wee Johnny or Mary coming into school late on a daily basis, hungry and tired, without a pencil, no homework done. 

We care about the attainment gap. We care about poverty and the inequalities of opportunity.

Some of these are societal issues which we as a profession are unable to fix but we as a profession are blamed for. The extra money given to schools is welcome but is it going to close the gaps which exist? 

Are Standardised Assessments going to close the attainment gap? If we were listened to – really listened to and our ideas put into action – investment in Nursery teachers in all Nursery classes, smaller class sizes throughout the school, more teachers and more support for learning assistants would certainly go a long way to help close the attainment gap.

To conclude colleagues, I will read to you a little poem I always read to the Nursery parents at the conclusion of our end of session concert –  I think it sums up teaching, our Curriculum for Excellence in a few lines without all the Es and Os, without the endless planning but most of all I think it sums up the wonderful profession to which we belong.

I want to teach my students more than lessons in a book
I want to teach them deeper things that others overlook
The value of a rose in bloom, its use and beauty too
A sense of curiosity to discover what is true.

How to think and how to choose the right above the wrong
How to live and learn each day, and grow up to be strong
To teach them always how to gain in wisdom and in grace
So they will some day make the world a brighter, better place.

Let me be a friend and guide  - to give these minds a start
Upon their way down life’s long road, then I’ll have done my part.

Thank you colleagues. 

Enjoy Conference 2017.