Colleagues and Guests,
When I began in my first teaching post at Dalbeattie High School in August 1984 I had no idea of what an "interesting" time it was in terms of EIS activity.
I did know that there were huge shortages of teachers in some secondary subject areas, most notably mathematics and computer science and that new qualifications, standard grades, were to be introduced but that was it. In early September on the suggestion of my PT I went to a meeting of teachers being held in a neighbouring school on a Monday evening.
This was a meeting of Stewartry Local Association EIS members. The business of the meeting was to update members on the lack of progress in pay discussions and that industrial action including strike action was imminent. The main contributor to the meeting was my PT who I discovered that evening was also the local EIS Secretary.
Over the next months a series of national strikes, a rolling programme of strikes in the constituencies of Conservative MP's, a lobby in London at the Houses of Parliament an the ending of many activities that teachers led outwith the school day formed the campaign.
That particular pay campaign took nearly two years to resolve and interestingly the new Standard Grade courses were cancelled after only one term and we know that teacher recruitment and retention continues to be an issue today.
It says much for the goodwill of teachers that it had been over 30 years before it began to look as if we might be heading towards a new period of industrial action.
The 2017 AGM resolution that the pay claim for 2018-19 should begin to seek to restore the huge loss in value that teachers salaries had suffered throughout the years of the public sector pay cap as part of the austerity agenda led to the launch in January 2018 of the Value Education Value Teachers campaign to support our pay claim for 2018- 19 for a 10% pay rise for all teachers and associated professionals.
At the 2018 AGM as well as being 4 months into the campaign we were also awaiting the outcome of the consultation exercise on possible provisions for inclusion in a forthcoming Education Bill which was due to be announced towards the end of June 2018. I think it is fair to say that everyone within the EIS was in no doubt that 2018-19 would probably not be one of the quieter years in our 172 year history, and I think that I can safely say that this has turned out to be the case.
From the start of the new school year the campaign continued seamlessly and I along with the Vice President, the Ex President and the General Secretary attended many of the EIS meetings being organised across all 32 local associations. At every meeting the message coming from members was the same, our members had had enough of being undervalued.
The Value Education Value Teachers Campaign was building momentum and a key new aspect of the campaign was becoming clear. The power of being able to speak to and hear from EIS members through the use of email and social media. In our 172 year history we have always been a member led trade union and this was clearly demonstrated on the 27th October at the National March and rally in Glasgow.
The turnout was beyond anything that we had anticipated and we are fairly certain that it is the largest ever demonstration held by a single trade union ever to take place in Scotland. But equally important to note is the support that we had from many other trade unions, the STUC, many other organisations and the wider public, showing that they all understand that the key to valuing education is by valuing teachers. The voice of EIS members was heard loud and clear.
From early on we knew that another first for this campaign would be the need to comply with the requirements of the Tory anti- trade union legislation introduced in 2017. Should we move toward industrial action then a statutory ballot would need to meet the thresholds set out. Holding consultative ballots on the various any offers made in course of the negotiations gave EIS members the opportunity to make their views known and in every ballot they did. Huge numbers of EIS members voting every time and always with overwhelming support for the recommendation being made. Every ballot result would have met the thresholds. I have no doubt that this continued loud voice of our members was a crucial factor in the successful outcome of the pay campaign and the agreement signed at the SNCT meeting at the end of April this year.
At the pay campaign meetings we had also been hearing from members of their other concerns and so the decision was taken to hold a survey of members in the first half of December to gather information. Again the response from members was overwhelming with some 3 times as many members responding as had done in a similar survey in 2014. And top of the list alongside pay were workload, issues related to ASN, lack of access to professional development and lack of career progress options. The fact that the pay agreement includes a commitment to take forward joint working with the aim of addressing these issues is welcome but must produce outcomes that will bring about the positive changes that teachers need.
I would like to now mention our members in FELA and ULA.
For FELA this year there have been negotiations on two matters. Firstly seeking agreement on a set of national terms and conditions and secondly to secure a cost of living pay rise for all lecturers. The ratification of the National Working Practices Agreement delivered the first of these but for the second FELA members have had to take industrial action including 6 days of strike action. However at all times there has been strong support among the members and in the last few days the tenacity of the negotiators has resulted in a pay offer which FELA members are now being consulted on with a recommendation to accept.
Our ULA members are also currently balloting on a pay offer with a recommendation from their executive committee to reject. The message to employers in higher education is clear, years of sub inflationary pay rises and excessive workloads must end . It is time to Value Higher Education and Value Lecturers
2018-19 is certainly turning out to be the year of the ballot!
Alongside the pay campaign activity all the more regular work of the EIS through the committees, sub committees and member networks has continued. As President I have had the opportunity to attend and be involved with the many professional learning events and conferences for groups of members that the EIS has held this year.
These events are always of the highest quality and receive much positive feedback. I am sure that the committee reports by convenors will refer to some of these events in more detail but I would like to take this opportunity to thank all officers and staff for all their work.
I would like to make particular mention reference to a group of EIS members who face the challenge that uncertainty brings and for many of them it happens on an annual basis. It was extremely disappointing that the recently published report from the Education and Skills Committee did not make it a statutory requirement for local authorities to provide instrumental music tuition at no cost to all pupils who wished to learn a musical instrument. So charging fees will continue to be seen as a revenue raising option by local authorities and then when uptake falls jobs are put at risk.
This year one local authority proposed ending all music tuition except to those pupils in S4-6 who had elected to take music as an exam subject choice. Because of this I found myself outside the council offices in Dalkeith early on a Thursday morning in February but I was not alone. Hundreds of young people were gathering and over the course of the morning demonstrated in a very musical way the passion they had for music and the skills that they had learnt. The proposal did not go ahead this year but there is no guarantee for future years and for our IMT colleagues in other authorities also. The “Change the Tune” campaign will continue.
In finishing I want to mention one of my most recent visits to a school. It was to Priorsford Primary in Peebles where I was a pupil and the headmaster was Charles Blacklaw who I discovered a few months ago served as EIS President from 1969-70.
I had the opportunity to look through the school logbooks and discovered that for the year he served as EIS President he noted what he did as President alongside the day to day activities of the school. So I began to read....
The first entry is dated 5th June 1969 and is - “The new typewriter for the school office was delivered this morning and the old model returned to the council offices in Rosetta Road. Travelled to the EIS AGM and was inducted as President.”
Over the course of the next year many entries record his travelling to meet with EIS members all over Scotland from Dumfries to Thurso, meetings with politicians albeit in London as opposed to Holyrood now, serving on a working party looking at the requirements and challenges of teacher recruitment and representing the EIS at conferences within Scotland, the British Isles and abroad.
In reading this it struck me that although 50 years have passed there has been little change in the role of the President. Many of the issues that caused concern then continue to be a challenge now but in all that time the EIS continues to be a strong voice in defending the interests and welfare of teachers and the promotion of sound learning.