Outgoing President of the EIS, Phil Jackson, delivered his speech to the 2014 AGM.

 

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Before I begin I would like to thank my employers Angus Council for supporting me in my year as President. I would also like to thank all the Local Associations whom I have visited and been in contact with and all the members of all the Committees and Sub-Committees and working groups etc. for their work and their comradeship over the past year. 

My knowledge of the university and college sectors in particular has grown exponentially! I would also like to thank all the office staff and officials in Moray Place for their support and friendship.

I'd like to start with a little bit of social and cultural history.

There was once a man called Robert Johnson. For those unacquainted with him he was a blues singer who, like most blues singers, endured extreme poverty and met all kinds of discrimination in his life. 

There is a particular song of his called 'Crossroads' that has always resonated with me. It also resonated with the Coen Brothers when they included the song and Johnson himself in their film 'O Brother Where Art Thou?'

Why do I mention this song in particular? Well, in general terms, I believe we are at a crossroads in education, maybe not the same sort of 'crossroads' Johnson was at, but a crossroads just the same.

Why do I say this?

In answering that question I first of all want to look at what is happening to the members of our sister unions in other parts of the UK. 

I am not suggesting for one minute that the doomed social experiment being visited upon pupils, parents and teachers by the Lib Dem coalition and its Education Secretary Michael Gove, and so vividly described in Melissa Benn in her book 'School Wars' will ever happen here, but it is a striking and salutary illustration of how education is often regarded as a political football and is considered fair game for anyone to declare themselves experts.

It is a classic example, albeit an outlandish one, of the truism - that everyone knows best about what is good for our pupils and their parents except for the professionals working with learners day in, day out. 

Like the people sitting in this room today, whose wealth of experience is often sidelined by local authorities who prefer to micromanage education rather than deliver the collegiality and joint working promised by the 'Teaching Profession in the 21st Century' agreement in 2001.

Teachers in England and Wales are certainly at a 'crossroads' and I applaud the resistance by the NUT and others to the right-wing ideology that threatens to snap the very roots of our society.

In Scotland it is somewhat different of course. Nevertheless we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we are not at a crossroads ourselves and cannot be nudged into a direction we don't want to go in. Actually, it has happened already.

The landscape before the 5-14 curriculum came in, a land that time forgot, had promise. The progressive primary education of the 60s and 70s had introduced cross curricular teaching long before CfE, secondary teachers were true subject specialists, and schools up and down the country were having literacy hours and working integrated days long before the BBC reported it.

The profession, by and large, welcomed 5-14, although some senior members of the profession urged caution. 

Everything seemed to start pretty well but it soon became apparent that teachers were being turned into deliverers of programmes of study: that the system had an inherent logical flaw that led to teaching in 'silos' rather in a sequential and cumulative way.

The curriculum in the primary was filling up with more and more bits and pieces that were assuming the mantle of subjects; the final nail was driven in when government insisted that un-standardised national tests were suitable vehicles for collecting data to compare school against school and authority against authority. 

In fact, some local authorities even continued this odious practice after the government had realised the error of its ways. So we had the spectacle of tests being commonplace from P1 onwards and pupils sitting, then re-sitting, national tests to bring up school averages. We fought hard against this kind of national testing.

Of course there have been strides forward in the past few decades. Pupils possess knowledge and skills and have access to experiences and opportunities that I would never have dreamed of during my own school days. 

Before I went to university I had never been in a tutorial group before and my first experience of this came as quite a shock. The growth in ICT skills could not have been foreseen. In my day one computer would fill a room. Study leave was almost unheard of and one rarely set foot outside the school for fear of the truant officer running after you!

I have also seen many positives on my visits to local associations in state of the art schools and community campuses built with public money to show what is possible in this austere, monetarist age. 

 

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To bring our Tardis nearer to the present time, CfE came along as the answer to our dreams. Few educationalists could argue with the philosophy nor with the aspiration to change education for good.

However, we must not forget that CfE has been twelve years in the making and still not fully formed. Momentum and seizing the day hardly seem to feature in its lexicon. Why? For one thing a lack of investment but, even more crucially, a lack of consistency. Too many circles that can't be squared and that is just the Maths!

So we ask why the primary curriculum has not been de-cluttered. Cross curricular work was already part of the primary mind-set anyway so there wasn't much mileage there for making the curriculum deliverable in a 25 hour teaching week.

We ask why the school is increasingly seen as the panacea for the shortcomings of society. Indeed we might even ask what the role of parents and families is in this new societal, wrap-around care role that schools are expected to perform. 

At the same time the initiatives keep piling on top. The latest is modern languages 1+2. Is there evidence that one modern language has been successfully delivered in the primary school? 

While our political and educational masters expend their energy in producing document, upon document, initiative upon initiative, teachers are just expected to get on with it, keep the spinning plates in the air and stop them falling on their heads.

Oh, and by the way, the standards of basic literacy and numeracy are not high enough. And don't forget the two hours of physical activity. A message for Bill Maxwell of Education Scotland and Mike Russell the Cabinet Secretary - do the Maths and see if you can get it to add up.

Also, see if you can explain why nursery teachers are disappearing when the curriculum has been extended from 5 years to 3 years (in the 3-18 model of CfE). Tell us how we can 'close the gap' when children start school up to 18 months behind their peers.

At the other end of the spectrum where are the physical and human resources going to come from for the report on developing Scotland's young workforce to become a reality? When are our young people between 16 and 24 going to stop being written off?

In between nursery and young adulthood how are the principles of Curriculum for Excellence going to be reconciled with an examination system that hasn't really changed that much?

The only differences seem to be that pupils up and down the country are going through the same system in countless different ways with different numbers of subject choices, different arrangements for periods of study, even different opportunities for pupils in terms of the old Higher and the new N6 Higher.

A system where teachers have to bear the additional burdens of verification, lack of exemplification and an inadequate level of support from the SQA, where pupils are being tested more than ever.

The review currently in progress must sort this out and sort it out fast. We must never find ourselves in this muddle again.

There are 12 motions mentioning the SQA this year and, at a recent meeting with them, we left them under no illusions that the pressure from us will be relentless until they, and their partners, get their act together. The review of what took place cannot be a whitewash.

Teachers have worked so hard this year for their pupils and any success must be credited to them. SQA and Government must get it right next time. What happened this year cannot happen again. Never again must pupils and their teachers have to endure the stress and pressure they have this year.

But that does not mean we must forget what happened this year. There is the issue of our S4 pupils experiencing the spectre of failure at an early stage and being the most tested generation of pupils ever - contrary to the principles of CfE and also, the broader issue of how sustainable a broad general education curriculum is when it leaves so little time it leaves to teach courses leading to awards.

Education Scotland and the Government must face up to these, and other many other issues, that threaten the very foundation of CfE.

And it is with not a scintilla of pleasure that I repeat - if the voice of the EIS has been listened to and had a year's delay in the new examinations been allowed, I believe we, and more importantly the young people of Scotland and their parents, would be in a better place than we are now.

Still we must look to the future and look at our own future. Building membership engagement has never been more imperative. We have only made steps so far but need to make start making strides.

On my travels around the country I have seen what is possible. I have seen members are prepared literally to go that extra mile and set off at some unearthly hour of the morning on a Saturday morning to attend a meeting in Lerwick. 

We must never forget that we are a lay member led union. All of us here today decide policy for the year ahead. We must also set the example in terms of engagement.

Another crossroads we face is what direction we head in to ensure the success of our current campaigns. Our workload campaign is reaching a critical point. Where do we go with it?

Excessive workload and bureaucracy have plagued our profession for decades. Research has been commissioned and, when the working group on tackling bureaucracy reconvenes in the Autumn, we need to see some some tangible progress and need to be sure that all partners who signed up to the tackling bureaucracy report have played their part. If not we need to be prepared to take further action.

Nor must we lose sight of one of the most important campaigns we have ever fought - the campaign on pensions. Some might think that now that increased contributions have been imposed upon us this is over. Not as far as we are concerned. 

We will not rest until the large group of teachers, who didn't make the cut-off point and are NPA 65 (Normal Pension Age) or beyond rather than NPA 60 and also tied into the linking of the NPA and SPA (State Pension Age), are treated with justice and fairness.

The challenge is still there for politicians to explain how the education system is going to function in the future when teachers are press ganged into working to 68 years old and beyond when they will have a health expectancy of seven years if they are lucky. 

Many are going to see an illustrious career brought to an ignominious end by a capability hearing and in what way the 'reforms' are not discriminatory to women taking career breaks.

The truth is that this 'work until you drop' mentality coupled with decreasing job security and real terms pay cuts will not attract artistic and creative people nor high quality graduates to our profession. 

The pensions reforms have been exposed for what they are, part of an attack on the public sector and a ham-fisted attempt to reduce a deficit caused by an irresponsible and poorly regulated financial sector. 

The consequences have not been thought through and this 'great pensions robbery' has proved to be a highly reckless and irresponsible way for a government to treat a vital and valuable public service.

Pensions will feature as part of our debate at this AGM. The Cabinet Secretary is aware of this, generally sympathetic to our concerns, but seems fairly relaxed about it as an issue for the future. But it is not an issue for the future, it is an issue that needs to be addressed now.

Politicians of all hues need to be left in no uncertain terms that, whether Scotland votes yes or no in the referendum, inaction is not an option. We need to have a proper discussion on what is a reasonable career length for teachers. 

For me 60 to 65 was a step too far for it did not leave enough flexibility for those suffering the ill-health that often accompanies the ageing process or for those experiencing the well documented phenomenon known as 'teacher burnout'.

As for the immediate future the progress in sidebar discussions on working longer have been disappointing thus far. We need a genuine, tangible commitment from the Scottish Government.

Following the acceptance by our members of a package on pay and conditions we must now turn our attention to our future pay strategy. The trouble with depressing public sector pay to the level the Con Dems have is that it is a short term measure that stores up trouble in the longer term.

 

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The United Kingdom is still one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Of course there is money to spend on what is important. Growth predicated on suppression of the public sector is neither economically or morally prudent nor is it acceptable to our members.

When we come to talk about restorative pay for teachers, which we inevitably will, it is interesting to reflect on the vision of a Masters level profession with its 30% Masters premium in pay (according to the OECD), in order to attract the highest quality graduates.

This is one of the big questions politicians have to answer in the lead up to the referendum vote in September and, indeed, the next general election - others include how exactly can teachers and schools deliver a new curriculum, a new examination system, early years and ASN provision in a climate of continuing cuts?

At the very time the MSPs are voting the Children and Young People's legislation through the Scottish Parliament, schools are struggling to provide the most basic of support for their pupils.

Getting it right for every child will not happen unless there is a significant investment in resources, unless there are enough teachers in classrooms, unless there are enough properly remunerated supply teachers.

We truly are at a crossroads in education where government must choose what its priorities are.

Does it want a properly funded system of CPD and professional update, properly resourced schools, a properly supported and trusted teaching profession and one which does not feel that its health and wellbeing and work life balance are being compromised by the ridiculous and unsustainable demands put upon it?

Does it really care about the importance of early years provision and, if so, why is the service expanding at a time when the number of teachers is contracting?

Does it really have a plan for realising the laudable aims of the report of the commission on developing Scotland's young workforce and actually providing positive and sustained destinations for our 16 to 24 year olds? Will it give schools and colleges the funding to make this dream a reality?

What is it going to do to bring stability to our university and college sectors when members' pay and conditions are attacked on a regular basis by unscrupulous employers? 

There is a very real sense in which issues like college regionalisation and a return to national bargaining are at that pivotal crossroads moment. Cutting college funding has not been helpful in this regard!

And, probably the biggest agenda of all, the scourge of poverty and inequality. At the last Scottish Learning Festival Mike Russell referred to Robert Owen's 'A New View of Society' and spoke of the need to 'act on homes blighted by poverty' and to 'invest in vulnerable children'. 

Of course, we agree. But change needs action if rhetoric is to become reality. We need to get behind the common weal approach and face up to the fact that poverty is a failure of economics and must be fixed economically.

We have come a long, long way since the days of another Robert, not Robert Owen but Robert Johnson who lived in the first part of the last millennium. Robert did not have the chance of an education to escape from poverty. He died, aged 27, after drinking whisky poisoned by a jealous husband and had no money for a doctor.

The crossroads he stood at offered him little choice but today we do have a choice and we need to exercise that choice. 

Our partners in education and those who manage education must come with us on a road not into the educational cul-de-sac that we have become so used to, but on a road less travelled, perhaps, where they are prepared to stand up for education and listen and act upon the voice of the professionals.