The General Secretary of the EIS has today (Friday) used his keynote address to the Annual General Meeting to highlight that Scotland’s teachers and their unions support progressive improvements that can enhance Scottish education.
He also hit back at some recent poorly-informed comments in the media which represented an ill-founded attack on Scottish education.
Addressing delegates at the EIS AGM in Perth Concert Hall, Mr Flanagan said, "It has been interesting to read recently some right-wing commentators having a specific go at the EIS, with one demanding that the First Minister should ‘take on the EIS’.
"But on what basis? The inference which might be drawn from these comments is that somehow the EIS is the block to ‘progress’ however that is defined - when the reality is that as Scotland’s teachers, we are the vehicle of progress."
He continued, "It is Scotland’s teachers who have delivered for the children and young people in our classrooms, for their families and carers beyond, Scottish teachers who have delivered and are delivering for the communities in which our schools, and indeed our colleges, are sited."
Mr Flanagan added, "No one is suggesting, of course, that everything in Scottish education is perfect – clearly it isn’t. We are all well aware of the attainment gap.
"The EIS held the first major Education and Poverty conference a few years back to highlight the impact of poverty on educational attainment; it was the EIS which made the approach to the Scottish Government for joint working on poverty.
"We stand ready to continue to work with all partners on this issue – there can be no complacency on tackling the impact of poverty."
He continued, "But not being complacent is not the same as seeing crisis where it doesn’t exist.
"The recent SSLN (Scottish Survey of Literacy & Numeracy) results are a case in point – it has become commonplace to hear politicians and journalists talking about standards dropping, in a lazy ill-informed manner which does a disservice to the hard work and success of our schools and our pupils.
"Some of the comments made recently have felt like a punch to the solar plexus, a low blow, for teachers who have worked flat out to deliver CfE in the most difficult of circumstances."
Mr Flanagan added, "Some more considered analysis would be useful. There was a headline drop in the figures, true, which is always disappointing and it was seized upon by the glass half empty brigade to say that all is doomed.
"In fact circa 80 % of pupils are performing well or better at P4 and P7; in the basic skill of reading nearly 90% of P7 pupils are performing well or very well. That’s a good news story.
"What is forgotten is that within CfE the levels are progressive not summative and that 80% is actually a very high benchmark that tells you our system is performing well.
"In Secondaries, the headline figure also dropped. Is it a coincidence that over the same two year period that secondary teachers have worked until they almost dropped to deliver the new national qualifications against a timetable which was too short and where the SQA failed to provide the support which schools deserved?"
He continued, "When you look at those areas where there has been a drop from two years ago, the survey actually highlights that this is mainly due to weaker performance from children who come from the poorest social economic background - that group of children whose families have suffered most from George Osborne’s benefit cuts and from the austerity which has seen an exponential rise in the use of food banks.
"In other words it tells you that austerity has its victims – poverty limits life chances. That’s not an excuse it’s an explanation. Schools will continue to tackle the impact of poverty but the real way to address the issue is to tackle the poverty at source."