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Created: 09 June 2017 | Last Updated: 14 June 2017 | Printer Friendly Version Printer Friendly Version | Make Text Smaller Make Text Larger |

General Secretary's Address

Good afternoon Colleagues

General Election:

From an EIS viewpoint, perhaps a significant aspect of the past few weeks, has been extent which Scottish Education, a wholly devolved matter, has been so centre stage in the political discourse.

Linked, clearly, to the profile and reputation of the SNP as the party of Government here in Scotland – led, in my view, to Scottish Education becoming a political football. Unfortunately, footballs get kicked a lot.

I’ve made the point in previous reports that the non-party-political stance of the EIS leaves us free with politicians to criticise constructively when it is appropriate to do so, to openly challenge when it is required, and to agree and collaborate where possible.

It is hugely disappointing, in my view, that a narrative of failure has developed around Scottish Education, which belies the good work being done in our schools, day in and day out, which ignores the successes which are being achieved such as record SQA qualifications, and which does such a disservice to the efforts not only of teachers but of pupils and their families also, in the pursuit of effective learning and teaching.

And these judgements are often made on the back of selective and misleading readings of "data”.

The idea, for example, that 25% of pupils leave primary school unable to read or write, a notion I heard repeatedly in the election, is simply not true.

The SSLN survey showed 88% of pupils performing well or better in reading – that’s a fantastic figure.

The writing figure at 65% isn’t as strong, and that is something to be investigated, but a further 29% are working within the level – to describe such pupils as illiterate – or failing to meet the standards – is to denigrate their achievements in order to score political points – that is shameful.

Only 6% of pupils in P7 were outside Level 2 – which given the number of pupils with EAL and SEN needs in our schools, given the impact of poverty on learning, is a good news story.

96% of pupils agree with the statement, "I want to do well in my learning"; which is what keeps us going as teachers. Stop talking down our pupils.

We also had earlier in this session the PISA results. PISA is much more than the headline statistics and I don’t reject the data out of hand. But the political hype and subsequent analysis is predictably intense and shallow at the same time.

There is a dip, out of sequence with previous trends, in Scotland’s performance. The challenge is to understand why? What variables were in play?

When you consider that in 2015, when these tests were taken, the cohort involved were in the middle of the assessment tsunami which led the EIS to take industrial action, had, in March, just completed the unit assessment treadmill and then went straight in to a new online assessment tool without any practice or familiarisation, it seems to me that the students were up against it from the get go.

So, there was a dip, captured by the snap shot taken.

Those same pupils went on to record the second-best set of SQA results, ever – so perhaps some context and circumspection is required before politicians thunder on about falling standards.

Clearly, there are challenges in our system – rising class sizes, cuts in support, and excessive workload don’t make it easy for teachers to respond to those challenges; nor does the fact that more pupils than ever, 1 in 4 in modern Scotland, face poverty in their lives with the inevitable hurdles that creates for educational attainment.

But the EIS makes no apology for saying we have a good education system in this country. Scotland’s teachers are delivering and they deserve better support from the political class than we have seen recently.

Teacher Pay:

That support needs to extend into ensuring that teaching is seen as attractive career, with appropriate pay reward and acceptable working conditions.

We attacked COSLA earlier in the week for failing to field a team to negotiate with us; we have now been offered a meeting later this month to take things forward.

But as Tom Tracey said yesterday, the 1% public sector pay cap offer has been rejected. With inflation rising, pension and insurance contribution increases now biting, 1% won’t cut it.

Colleagues, this morning’s debate has made it clear that a significant battle is looming on this issue.

But if I could cite the example of FELA in the recent dispute, a pay campaign will require determination and resolve if it is to be carried through to victory.

FELA have had to win their dispute twice. Most recently FELA members took 6 days of strike action. Concern that Colleges Scotland is again dragging its feet in terms of honouring the deal they made only a few weeks.

The EIS suspended the strikes as agreed – we will not accept Colleges Scotland failing to deliver the agreed pay enhancements and I should make clear that neither Colleges Scotland who signed the agreement nor the Scottish Government who helped broker it, neither will be forgiven if lecturers are forced back into strike action again but they should both be clear we will not be betrayed on this issue.

To be in the position of being able to sustain that level of fight, FELA activists had worked for over a year to build support amongst members, and for two years before that in terms of last year’s action, and just as importantly to build confidence amongst members that they could win the campaign.

We need to do the same for teachers.

The Trade Union Act:

The anti-trade union act means that a vote not cast is a vote against – that’s a challenge we need to be able to rise to; and the key to that is you, colleagues; you are the key activists is this union.

If you’re not building this campaign in your school branches and local associations, who will?

HQ will support and advise, but it can’t substitute for the lay leadership of this union.

I think Scotland’s teachers need to make their voice heard; I think it’s time for Scotland’s teachers to fightback; I think it’s time for the EIS to lead that fightback.

I Mentioned the anti Trade Union Act – another consequence of that is that we need to ballot members on the retention of our political fund; it's important that we maintain this fund as it allows us to run campaigns such as our local government manifesto.

SQA and Workload:

It's never just about pay for teachers – terms and conditions, and the ability to do our job, have always been key issues for members and over the past few years addressing workload has been the number on issue.

Our action on SQA created workload led to a victory with the planned removal of Unit assessments from N5 and Higher.

Some concerns were expressed about the removal of RPA and we have attempted to respond to those in terms of the timetable structures which should be promoted to ensure space and time for deep learning and breadth – two of the key aims of the senior Phase, largely unrealised to date.

It is hugely frustrating that the SQA seems to have responded to legitimate criticism from teachers of its role in the new qualifications challenges, by a truculent attitude towards the need for changes to be implemented.

I urge SQA to stop picking fights with the profession and to try work with us.

Last year we had the Deputy First Minister here at conference and he made clear his determination to address bureaucracy and excessive workload, to allow a focus on teaching and learning.

And I have heard him on a number of occasions indicate how he believes he is addressing our concerns through the advice he has issued, through Education Scotland, and the introduction of benchmarks in literacy and numeracy.

We carried out a short survey of 1,000 members – weighted to ensure a representative sample and with a return rate which gives us 95% veracity. Let me share some slides with you.

Slide 1:

When asked about workload changes in the past year, 86% of respondents stated that workload had increased over 2016-2017 session.

So whilst I don’t doubt the intention of the Deputy First Minister to address teacher concerns, the simple fact is that it isn’t happening.

As ever in Scottish Education, there is a gap between rhetoric and reality. So maybe some time needs to spent on actually dealing with the problem.

Slide 2:

Despite the ambition, workload satisfaction has decreased with a majority of 19% of respondents scoring just 1 out of 10 (not at all satisfied) for current workload satisfaction.

Previous survey had shown only 10% of respondents scored 1 out of 10.

Pay and excessive workload need to be tackled.

Slide 3:

In the survey, we asked the question as to how many respondents who would recommend teaching as a profession has increased. A majority of 54% of respondents stated that they would not recommend teaching as a profession.

Previous survey showed that 44% of respondents would not recommend teaching as a profession.

Teachers should be your best advert for the profession but if 54% are saying they wouldn’t recommend it as a career, that’s a very clear sign for the Government and employers that action needs to be taken – and that action needs to make a difference to teachers.

International:

I was invited to join a delegation visiting Bosnia to learn more about what happened at Srebrenica.

In a sense I knew what happened because the events occurred in the 1990s; along with many of you, I watched on television as Serbian forces attacked Bosnian Muslims in towns like Sarajevo.

I learned the meaning of a new phrase – "ethnic cleansing.”

But I was still shocked when I visited the country and listened to survivors of the genocide which occurred there or to women who were victims of rape as a weapon of war and terror.

At Srebrenica I stood in the cemetery where 8,372 men and boys are buried – executed for being Muslim.

So I would commend to you the teaching materials which the charity has created with a view to educating our children of the horrors of racism and xenophobia.

Tragic events of the last few weeks, underline the importance of the work we do as educators in challenging racism and promoting equity and respect.

Staffing:

We have experience a number of staff changes this year: notably we saw Area Officers Karen Barclay and Frank Healey retire; along with Lyn McLintock our CPD coordinator and the long serving Babs Clements who would have met if you ever visited Moray Place or would have spoken to if you phoned.

Our thanks to all of them for their service and other colleagues who have moved on during the year.

Particular thanks to Assistant Secretary Drew Morrice, who has finally retired after a career long affiliation to the EIS – firstly as an activist and then latterly as a full-time official.

Drew’s knowledge of all things SNCT or casework related is encyclopaedic and his skill set, good humour and hard work will certainly be missed but we wish him and other colleagues all the best in retirement. And congratulations to David Belsey, our new Assistant Secretary.

Colleagues, we have over the past few years had a number of first time delegates to AGM, which is a healthy sign of renewal within out own ranks, so I am very pleased to again welcome 46 first time delegates to this year’s AGM; hope you find it interesting and stimulating.

I hope to see some of you at the lunch time fringe meeting for a chat – other fringes are available but as ever mine has the best purvey!

I am pleased to report that despite the impact of austerity on teacher employment, our paying membership has grown over the year by around 600, which is good news. I have no doubt that the weight of the EIS is a key factor in our ability to influence policy – we have within our ranks a level of professional unity which other parts of the world would dearly love to have.

Conclusion:

Colleagues – it’s been a busy year and it will be a busy year ahead.

There are huge political uncertainties abroad and we will require to chart a passage through them.

I believe we are well equipped to do so; as a trade union and as a professional association, the Educational Institute of Scotland is the voice of Scotland’s teachers – let’s make that voice be heard.