Please note these are bullet point notes - check against address.
Good afternoon colleagues; looking back at previous speeches I seem to have begun them all with a reference to it having been a busy year – but then, is it ever anything else?
With the referendum and the recent UK election, political discourse and engagement has been running at a high level; in terms of the referendum I think that the EIS, alongside the STUC, was a model of how participative debate can be encouraged and facilitated, without unnecessary division emerging – despite the very strong passion on both sides of the discussion, as a union and a professional voice we remained united.
Ken Wimbor referred yesterday to the strength the EIS derives from having no political party affiliation – criticise or praise as is required. and indeed we were able to articulate strongly a theme common to both sides - the need, irrespective of the result, for social justice to be the driving force in Scottish politics.
That focus assumes greater purchase with the UK election result and the prospect of even greater social division and inequalities in our society – further benefit cuts and attacks on the poorest in our society.
And isn’t it a depressing sign of things to come that in the first Queen’s speech, the UK government set out plans to further curb the rights of trade unions, TUs one of the few civic voices able to speak out (6 million / 600,000 here in Scotland) and to act in defence of working people, our members and our families. Shameful, that UK Government seeking to silence protest.
It's clear the EIS, along with our sister organisations such as the NUT in England and Wales, will not be cowed into submission by an anti-democratic and ideologically driven attack from Westminster.
Here in Scotland, the EIS is voice of the profession, and we most certainly will continue to stand up for Scottish teachers and for Scottish education.
And if Scottish education didn’t feature strongly in the UK election, it certainly will for Holyrood. The EIS will welcome that focus because we believe that education should be central to the debate about the type of Scotland we wish to live in.
But it needs to be a measured debate, not one reduced to political point scoring or headline grabbing, where party advantage is seen as more important than constructive dialogue – that’s destructive; it is to some extent the discourse that dominated in England and which led the NUT to run its own campaign, Stand Up for Education, in the run up to the general election. A campaign which we can learn much from, and perhaps even emulate, as we approach Holyrood 2016.
The EIS has had to respond robustly, recently, to defend teachers from misguided and unfair criticism, and opportunistic political attack such as the Tories call testing (not going to happen).
It’s been interesting to read recently some right wing commentators having a specific go at the EIS, with one demanding that the FM should "take on the EIS" – 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.
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.
This union was formed in 1847. Oldest teacher organisation in the world. We are deeply committed to the children and young people we serve, and our pledge over those 168 years, inscribed on our banner, has been for the promotion of sound learning and for the interests and welfare of Scotland’s teachers. Objectives we remain committed to.
No one is suggesting of course that everything in Scottish education is perfect – clearly isn’t. Well aware of the attainment gap. The EIS which 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 this theme, leading to Mike Russell as Cab Sec organising events last year.
Stand ready to continue to work with all partners on this issue – no complacency. But not being complacent is not the same as seeing crisis where it doesn’t exist.
The recent SSLN results is a case in point – become commonplace to hear politicians and journalists talking about standards dropping, lazy ill-informed manner which does a disservice to the hard work and success of our schools and our pupils.
Frankly, 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. 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 basic skill of reading nearly 90% of P7 pupils performing well or very well.
That’s a good news story – link that to the broader achievements we have a successful education system. 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.
When you look at those areas where there has been 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.
I heard the cabinet secretary speech a few weeks ago and the thrust of it was a genuine commitment to tackling the impact of poverty and I have no doubt that the FM is absolutely genuine in her sacred pledge to do the same.
Schools will continue to tackle the impact of poverty but the real way to address the eradicate the impact of poverty on educational attainment is to eradicate the obscenity of poverty in our society.
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. Now I agree that we need to respond to any evidence which reveals challenges still to be met. But there is a context for everything.
Here’s a suggestion – give us back the 4,000 teachers we have lost; give us the smaller class sizes we were promised; give us the access to nursery teachers in pre-5 as the bedrock for future learning which is supposed to be government policy.
Give us the tools and we’ll do the job. A lot of discussion about evidence - here’s a piece of evidence for COSLA and the Scottish Government to consider: in 2005 the pupil teacher ratio in Scotland was 14.9 compared to an OECD average of 16.1; by 2012 it had risen in Scotland by more than a third to 21.1 whilst the OECD figure had dropped to 15.2, with countries like Poland and Finland, PISA success stories, showing significant drops in that period also.
Conclusion – pay attention COSLA – class size makes a difference; the number of teacher makes a difference.
Despite this Scotland has maintained its position in the top quartile of all the PISA rankings - described by some commentators as languishing mid table. Realise that I am English Teacher and we’re talking about numbers!
But by definition you can’t be in the top quartile and be mid table – slovenly shorthand that does a disservice to our schools. Sense of frustration!
The EIS is a constructive organisation; we’re a professional body; we look to build partnerships and to understand the pressures faced by others, collaborate. Teachers - collaboration works.
So we’ll continue to seek dialogue with Government – local and national; we’re engaged with Education Scotland and the SQA; we work closely with GTCS and we are developing our links with SCEL.
We’ll not be found wanting but we’ll not allow anyone to paint a target on us and take aim. We have enjoyed a social partnership in Scotland which is the envy of many countries and it is a prize we should cherish – needs to be a genuine partnership.
Education is Scotland is almost universally regarded as a societal good and that is a firm foundation to build upon.
Burns "To a Louse” – "O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us." I was struck at a recent event I attended in Edinburgh, to hear Pasi Sahlberg speak in very glowing terms about Scottish Education.
On many fronts Scotland is doing well and CfE, despite the many issues that Scottish teachers have had to face, is highly regarded as a progressive educational reform which stands in marked contrast to the hallmarks of the global educational reform movement which champions the type of agenda we see in England testing / high stakes / narrow curriculum which serve to lessen the impact of education.
The next line in the "To a Louse” continues: "It would from many a blunder free, and foolish notion.” Needs to be a real appraisal of where we are.
OECD in Scotland this week. Met with them through CfE MB. Stressed that change is a process. Changes need time to take root and flourish; Scottish teachers have gone an extra country mile in the past few years delivering CfE – end of implementation cycle – what is needed now is a period of consolidation and calm, in order that we reap the benefits from the changes made. Not a mad rush onto the next "project”. Natural change cycle: development - implementation – consolidation; moving into that last phase.
If you consider the Tackling Bureaucracy report and the Reflections report on the qualifications there’s certainly a full agenda there in making the adjustments required to make CfE work as it was intended.
Referencing these two reports links nicely on to the subject of the workload campaign.
We’ve made a short video around the campaign which we will show tomorrow but the key point to be made is that despite the recognition from all parties about the workload burden – starting with Mike Russell at this AGM two years ago and extending to all the signatories of the Tackling Bureacuracy report including ADES, COSLA, SQA, Education Scotland, the GTCS, and the Scottish Government.
We still have a situation where our most recent survey – Fortnight Focus - 3,000 members – reveals that the average working week for teachers in Scotland is now 46.5 hours – representing a 10% increase since the evidence we submitted to the McCrone inquiry 15 years ago, which led to a contract which specifies that a teacher’s duties should capable of being overtaken in a 35 hours week!
Evidence based approach – here are some more points for Government to consider: TALIS 2013 – average number of hours is 38; within that teachers teach for 19 hrs.
Even if Scottish teachers were only working their contractual hours they would be spending 855 hours a session teaching. There are only 5 other OECD countries in the world where teachers spend over 800 hours directly teaching – Argentina, Australia, Chile, Mexico and the USA - none of which are regarded as world leading education systems. Lesson there.
Delegates, the workload situation is unsustainable and as we saw in our Health and Wellbeing survey, it is leading to stress and burn out in the profession.
It has to change to colleagues, and we, the EIS need to be the agent of that change. That means that some things will have to be set aside, as Hugh Donnelly referred to yesterday, some of those spinning plates need to be allowed to drop – frankly, if everything is deemed a priority then nothing actually is. If teachers keep trying to do everything then workload will not decrease.
EIS is demanding real progress on workload reduction in this forthcoming session and as we build towards the 2016 Scottish elections this will be one of our key demands.
Colleagues - the Executive Committee and Council will be discussing further the elements of our manifesto but we have already signalled in our submission to the Education Bill some key elements, such as a protection around teacher numbers (welcome this year’s commitment from Scottish Government and eventually the 32 councils – significant victory for us – really need to question COSLA sense of itself – support local authority control of schools but there is a real question mark over COSLA’s ability to function and that of course is something we need to be mindful of in terms of National collective bargaining - four authorities gone already).
We have argued, also, for a National staffing standard; protection of the pupil primary week; and statutory status for nursery teachers (note the publication of the Siraj report this week – look forward to a dialogue with Scottish Government).
Decisions of this AGM will feed into this process, also, but I would wish to highlight in particular the importance of political commitment in the FE sector. College management, despite the relocation of sector into public education, continuing to act as if they are a law unto themselves – heading towards a national dispute – zero pay award. Scottish Government needs to act.
Indeed, our ULA section is about to consult on a 1% pay offer. And with talks within the SNCT having failed to produce a settlement for this year’s pay discussions – COSLA’s offer of 1% not acceptable.
All three sectors of EIS membership could find themselves in concerted action for the first time in decades. Ironic – MPs about to receive a 10% award.
Colleagues, moving towards a conclusion we clearly face some very real challenges in the year ahead. I would like to finish, if I may, however, on some less dramatic issues.
You may be aware from the SEJ that a number of members of staff are retiring this year: Ken Wimbor, FEIS, is stepping down after a career long period of service to the Institute, both as an activist and as an employee, and I would like to formally thank him on your behalf for that commitment to the Institute and wish him a healthy retirement.
Pleased to announce Andrea Bradley as new Assistant Secretary of Education and Equality, with Louise Wilson moving to Organisation.
We have a number of HQ staff retiring also who may not be as well known to everyone here at AGM but whose loyal and efficient service to the Institute contributes greatly to our successful functioning: Eileen Graham, who acts as time keeper at AGM and has been increasingly referred to as the long suffering PA to the Gen Sec (I’m a ray of sunshine); Eileen Davidson from the Education Department retires today having started work with the EIS in 1969; Frank, the HQ caretaker and maker of really strong coffee for committees, and later this year, Sheila Harris who services the Equality department and the Benevolent Fund, will also be retiring after over 30 years service, having started in 1977.
We wish them all the very best and hope that they enjoy retirement as much as our members seem to do, when they finally get over the wall. Part of process of renewal we have been going through – middle of a change cycle.
President Elect referred yesterday to the training and support being developed and provided through HQ. Last year welcomed around 30 new delegates. Very pleased to say that we have 50 new delegates with us at AGM this week – you are very welcome (Special Fringe).
Our Council has 135 members on it – there are only 54 still there from those who elected me but very pleased to acknowledge the new wave of activists coming through! Training and support being developed and provided through HQ. Refurbishment creates a new training facility. Remain an activist organisation. Two new posts.
Not easy to raise your head but it is a hugely rewarding. Referendum – thirst for involvement. EIS offers that channel. Lay member – voice of the profession.
Pursuing the promotion of sound learning we pursue the interests of everyone involved in Scottish Education – pupils, parents and staff.
The EIS will always stand up for and champion the cause of Scottish Education.