It has been quite a year for me and quite a journey, a journey which began in this hall, in June last year.
This journey has allowed me to engage with members across Scotland, to represent the EIS at meetings with The Cabinet Secretary, and at fringe meetings at the Scottish political party conferences. It has enabled me to take forward issues of concern to our members.
What a year it has been. It has indeed been an honour and a privilege. The United Kingdom has had some memorable moments in 2014-15, so in terms of my year in context I will highlight a few.
In June, Brazil hosted the world cup and sadly, not for the first time, the Scotland team stayed at home and watched on TV. In July, Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games, a hugely successful enterprise.
In September, the Independence Referendum was held, and later the Smith Commission set up to consider enhanced devolution. Nearer to home for me, Albion Rovers became Second Division Champions for the first time in 26 years.
There were more poignant moments: one of my political heroes, Tony Benn, died. July saw the Centenary of the beginning of the First World War.
May was the 70th Anniversary of VE Day; that was 1945 when Clement Atlee’s Labour Party had a landslide victory in the General Election on a radical manifesto to create full employment, a National Health Service, a Welfare State and implement the 1944 Act, Education for All.
This was a radical change in the political, economic and social settlement for all citizens; despite the hardship and tragedy of war and a large National Debt.
What has not been an honour or a privilege is to witness (seventy years on) the gradual dismantling of these great enterprises over the last five years.
What has not been an honour or a privilege is to have been President of the EIS in the fifth year of this unnecessary Austerity Budget, which has done so much harm to our communities, to our standard of life and has inflicted savage cuts to all areas of the public sector with consequences for the quality of the Education we can provide.
If you hoped that the General Election result of the 7th May would create an opportunity to end this wanton destruction then be afraid, be very afraid! I was hoping that I would be making an appeal to a new Government that it would end the austerity we have lived under.
We have a new Government and I know it will be deaf to such appeals, but that cannot stop me making them. We should not go on like this. We should not go on like this with policies that drive down wages, create poverty and attack the lowest paid and the weakest in our society, with the consequences being ignored or denied.
As the world’s fourth wealthiest country it is obscene that increasing numbers of families are forced to live in poverty, the majority of whom are in work. The Child Poverty Action Group tells us that one in five, and that’s about 220,000 children, are officially recognised as living in poverty in Scotland; this is a level significantly higher than many other European countries.
In 2012, there was one Trussell Trust food bank in Scotland. As of November 2014, there were 48 in 27 Scottish Local Authorities. 30% of those relying on emergency food parcels are children.
A key challenge for Education is closing the attainment gap. There is a wealth of evidence showing that children from poorer backgrounds do less well academically than children from more privileged backgrounds.
Our Equality Committee child poverty campaign states, "… poverty can have a devastating impact on the educational achievement of children and young people." We do not close the attainment gap by increasing poverty. We will now again face policies which will increase poverty.
Some time ago I came across a book called The Syllabus of Physical Education for Primary Schools. It was first printed in 1933. It states that children need to " …learn the value of rest, exercise, fresh air and sunshine and good food."
Who would have thought that in the early part of the 21st century teachers and lecturers would need to watch out for learners who are going to school and college hungry?
We expressed our concerns over the issue of social and economic deprivation in a Motion at the STUC Conference this year. The Scottish Government has begun a new initiative to close the attainment gap and help those from poorer backgrounds achieve greater academic success.
Of course we support the aims of raising attainment, but it has to be recognised that there are no easy solutions and it is a huge challenge.
We have to remember there have been initiatives put in place in the past to tackle the attainment gap; remember New Community Schools? Projects like these fell out of favour because budgets were directed elsewhere or the Educational or political mood changed.
I will quote Professor Sir Harry Burns from Strathclyde University speaking to Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee on Tuesday 13 May 2014 on Early Years Health Inequalities; "We still think in terms of a machine metaphor - the idea that pulling a lever here will make everything all right over there - but society ain't like that. The system is complex and we need different ways of dealing with it."
Pulling the levers in Education and blaming teachers will not solve the deep endemic problems caused by poverty. Education cannot solve the problems on its own. We must not lose sight that the prime objective in a wealthy country like ours should be to eradicate poverty.
What has been an honour and a privilege has been the opportunity to visit members in schools across Scotland and witness first hand the tireless dedication, commitment and professionalism of my colleagues in producing the best educational opportunities for their pupils, in the face of those budget cuts.
I have many pleasant memories of those visits. The Primary School in Perthshire which has developed a nurture group as a way forward to help P1 pupils develop the necessary social skills to better engage with the learning process.
The Early Years classes in Shetland, which were a fine example of the team work necessary in this important stage in a child’s development. The morning I spent in a Falkirk Primary where the children confidently reported on their projects on the Titanic and ran a Food Barra shop selling locally produced fruit and vegetables. I can tell you, if you want to be healthy then eat your vegetables and as for the Titanic well, I will not spoil the ending for you.
The secondary schools I visited where the staff created the learning environments which would enable the children and young adults in their charge, from all backgrounds, to achieve their full potential both socially and academically.
I would like to thank all my colleagues who made me so welcome on my visits to schools and local associations.
These visits across Scotland reminded me that each school tailors the learning environment to meet its own unique challenges. From rural to inner city, from areas of deprivation to the more affluent catchment areas, each school has its own specific challenges to meet and has staff committed to meeting those challenges.
Our campaign, Make Time for Teaching, continues and workload is still a major issue. Last year saw the release of the report on Tackling Bureaucracy from the CfE Working Group. Do not underestimate how significant a step that was in our campaign.
All the signatories to that report recognised a crisis in workload that was reducing Time to Teach. It was signed, I will remind you, by all the Teacher Trade Unions, by The Directors of Education in Scotland, The Association of Heads and Deputes in Scotland, The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Education Scotland, The National Parent Forum of Scotland, The Scottish Government, School Leaders Scotland and The Scottish Qualifications Authority.
This is now the first year of the implementation of the recommendations of that report. This is the hard part. Recognising the problem is one thing, dealing with it is something else.
If the Scottish Government wants to narrow the attainment gap then give us Time to Teach. Some time ago I was asked how we could measure the success of the Tackling Bureaucracy Campaign and the answer quite simply is by seeing an actual reduction in bureaucracy. To achieve this, the signatories need to engage in steps to reduce the workload.
Take the example of Forward Plans in Primary Schools. For years now across Scotland - and this was due partly to confusion as to what a Forward Plan was for and to a misplaced perception that it had to choke a horse - forward plans have been a cause of huge unnecessary workload.
We could work with Education Scotland to identify good practice in this area. This could be disseminated to schools through the LNCTs. Agreements like this would both eliminate unnecessary excessive planning and give schools the confidence that in eliminating this bureaucracy they had the backing of Education Scotland and their Local Authority.
The Curriculum for Excellence itself is still one of our main drivers of workload and I will stay on Primaries just now. It should have brought about a decluttering of the Primary Curriculum and it has not. If you want to see the deep learning the CfE promised then declutter the curriculum. If you want more time spent on ‘the basics’, declutter the curriculum.
In secondary schools the main workload driver is the National Qualifications. Was it the Daleks or the SQA who drove fear into people by shouting? "Exemplification! Verification! Extermination!?"
It was clear that last year the process was a nightmare for all involved and that includes teachers, pupils and parents. We met with the SQA and changes were made this year.
However, from the Motions on the table at this AGM and in my discussions with members, issues have not been resolved and that is both in terms of workload and concerns over attitudes being formed by, and about, pupils to some of those assessments. The decisions on the Motions will inform EIS policy for our next meetings with the SQA.
Most importantly in tackling workload we have to ensure our members themselves develop the confidence to challenge the bureaucracy they face and to negotiate time to teach. This means all the signatories where they have the authority should be working to ensure that, finally, a collegiate structure is in place in all establishments where all colleagues views are welcomed, valued and considered in the decision making process.
Our members need to develop a confidence and a willingness to challenge bureaucracy.
We have seen CPD events such as those on Working Time Arrangements and the use of School Development Plans which have helped members in this process.
As for the CfE in general, I’ll quote Sinatra, "...flying high in April shot down in May...” We spend up to ten years implementing CfE and then after a half hour speech made by a politician to a group of academics it is open season on us and the CfE.
If you set aside the concerns we have raised over aspects of CfE which include an overloaded primary curriculum, a lack of clarity as to what is the BGE in secondary, problems with the National Qualifications and recent calls for a return to 'basics' and even National Testing, then you could say it has settled down quite well.
Where does this assumption come from that seemingly all assessment stopped on day one of CfE?
Schools continue to assess and in part do this by testing. Proper assessment should be relevant, manageable and inform the learning process.
We cannot go back to the testing regime of 5-14 which did not inform the learning process but created a target driven culture which judged schools on their academic outcomes and corrupted the learning process.
What CfE has taught me is never again do The Big Bang Theory in Education. CfE proposed huge changes that reversed previous practice. It has to be praised for trying to move away from the Top Down decision making and test driven culture of 5 to 14.
However, it set out aspirations for Scottish Education but with no planning as to how to achieve those. It also assumed the system had a structure and philosophy that accepted decisions should be made from the bottom up and supported from the top down.
Do not let me mix you up, talking about the Big Bang Theory. One of course is about a group of academics who are often out of touch with the real world. The other is an American TV programme.
We recognise that budgets are tight in every Local Authority but we have to ensure there is Additional Support Needs provision in all our schools.
This is an issue of equality, equality of opportunity for all to achieve their full potential. At the STUC Conference this year I proposed a Motion which asked Congress to campaign to ensure that all local Authorities were providing the required ASN services and information on those services and to campaign for an overall improvement of ASN provision.
Units providing support for children with behavioural needs should also not be seen as an easy target for cuts.
In general with proposals to save money, the consequences for education must not be ignored. Cutting teacher numbers, removing GTCS registered teachers from the Early Years team, cutting instrumental music tuition and removing two and half hours from the Primary pupil week all have a consequence in a reduction in the quality of education.
We continue to support the campaigns of our members in other sectors. Last month I spoke at a rally outside Holyrood, organised by FELA Executive as part of their campaign against the savage cuts which have been inflicted on the college sector.
FE has faced cuts of 20% since 2010 which has seen courses and teaching posts lost. Budgets need to be restored as FE plays an important role as a pathway to employment for so many young adults and gives them the life opportunities so many of us take for granted.
I also wish to congratulate the FELA Executive for negotiating the first moves towards a return to collective bargaining. In Higher Education the campaign continues for management boards which have elected principals and are representative of staff, students and senior management. They also have to be transparent in decision making, have a gender balance and places for the trade unions.
Events organised by the EIS across Scotland have shown the desire of our members for quality CPD activities. One of the main topics was the GTCS Professional Update. We have issues with aspects of the operation of The Council but its importance to us can be reflected in the fact that members of other trade unions, in the UK and other parts of Europe, are clear they would desire a GTC based on the Scottish model.
Our Equalities Committee also have to be congratulated on the high standard of the equality training courses they organised this year.
I want to draw attention to the important work done by the Employment Relations Committee in two main areas. The first is in the help given, from the Benevolence Fund, to those of our members who have fallen on hard times.
The second is in the support given to members who have become involved in disciplinary procedures. I have seen the work of our union in both these areas having a profound and positive effect on people’s lives. Thank you to the officials and lay members of Employment Relations for the work you do.
Our campaigns on Pensions and Salaries of course continue. You know I often wonder if the publishers of 1984 ever contacted George Orwell and said, 'OK George your vision of the far future is of cruel heartless Governments who engage in unnecessary wars, create a climate of paranoia to enable them to enact draconian legislation and deliberately drive people into abject poverty. That is hard to believe but there is one bit you really need to cut; where the Government forces people to work till they are sixty eight. Come on it’s too far-fetched!'
They would have been right, you had to wait until 2015 before our pockets were picked.
We have met with the Scottish Government on this. I have been impressed by the arguments against this and the suggestions for a resolution put forward by the Trade Union side led by our own Drew Morris and Larry Flanagan. Negotiations will continue to resolve this problem.
On salaries, all of us have seen our standard of living fall over the last five years with pay freezes and low increases. Our aim is for a restorative pay rise. At the STUC conference this year, the EIS proposed a Motion for all public sector unions to campaign for this and we will continue to press for this in our negotiations at the SNCT.
I would like to say some words of thanks.
Thank you to my employer South Lanarkshire Council for giving me the facility time to engage in the duties of President and Vice President. Thank you to all the staff of the EIS for the work they have done on behalf of the Institute and for the help and support the have given me over the past year.
I would in particular like to thank Ken Wimbor, who is retiring this year, for his help and advice. Best wishes for your retirement Ken.
Professor Harry Burns, whom I quoted earlier, told a story of how his father at fifteen was washing bottles in a lemonade factory. He was encouraged by a teacher to return to school and this was a life changing moment as he went on to graduate from University.
Every one of us in this room will have similar life changing stories to tell about our role in helping children and young adults to go on to achieve their full potential. Colleagues, it’s time we celebrated our successes as we have made such a positive difference to so many lives.
In conclusion, as outgoing President and as the storm clouds gather once again over the future direction of Education Policy may I suggest a few pointers for the Scottish Government on how to raise attainment.
Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, once said "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”