General Secretary's Address

Created on: 07 Jun 2019


Good afternoon Colleagues.

As we approach the summer break, I’m sure you will all agree – that it has been an absolutely relentless year! 

Alongside your teaching commitments, your work as EIS activists in this past year, has demanded much from you in terms of time, energy and commitment 

So I would like to start this short (shortish) speech by placing on record an enormous thank you to you, the lay leadership of the institute, and that is what you are; a thank you also to the other layers of activists nationally and locally who have worked so hard over this year, and especially to our school reps and school commitees, who as ever, have been key to the work of the EIS – to all of these groups a huge thank you - for the magnificent effort that saw us build, sustain and ultimately win the  biggest teacher pay campaign in decades.

Stretch out your hand, colleagues – a limbering up exercise – place it behind the person beside you, (primary teachers are doing it no problem; secondary a bit reluctant) – and give one another a pat on the back, for a job well done (gently of course –  I don’t want any GTCS casework).

Colleagues - this was your campaign; your fight – and you delivered. 

Value Education Value Teachers

And it is worth just taking a moment to think of how that was achieved – from a couple of hundred delegates outside the Caird Hall at last year’s AGM, cavorting about to fill the square, to over 30,000 teachers turning George Square yellow a few months later. 

We built the campaign meticulously:

Phase 1 we established the narrative – 10 reasons  for 10% set out our case - Value Education Value Teachers strapline captured the essence of our argument – and spoke to members and public alike;  

In Phase 2 like Rabbie Burns' "sulky sullen dame we nursed our wrath to keep it warm" - we too nurtured the grievance as COSLA and the Scottish Government dug in and refused to meet our legitimate demand; and

in Phase 3, when it came time to engage in battle our members demonstrated that that they were willing to do so.

I said last year at AGM that it was not enough to have the arguments; not enough to have the moral high ground; not enough to have sympathetic voices off stage.

I made the point that the Scottish Government would only concede our claim if they believed that our threat of strike action was real and that was the case – and that was exactly the case. That final ballot result where a clear majority showed they were willing to take strike action, and the figures showed that we would smash the Tory anti-trade thresholds, led to Scottish Government's 11th hour offer - which our members agreed to accept.

Strike action is always a last resort but trade unions have to be prepared to fight when it is required – and we demonstrated that the EIS was.

It was a significant campaign for us colleagues – not only in terms of the increase in pay but also, so important in the long term, for the impact it has had on the union. 

Engagement in the union

There has been massive engagement with the union. We have had thousands of meetings taking place at school, Local, regional level and national level.

Our Comms department worked flat out to keep members informed: 

  • Nearly 4,000 new Twitter followers and over 1,250 Campaign Tweets 
  • More than 6000 Facebook followers 
  • Almost 500,000 visits to campaign section of the EIS website 
  • Over 40 press releases on the pay campaign  
  • 11 Reps' Bulletins with campaign updates and materials (including 2 ballot special bulletins) 
  • And with 62 all member emails – most popular communication in our survey. That’s a total of more than 2,500,000 emails.  

Our Membership Department. I want to thank the staff there who worked flat out in the run up to the statutory ballots in particular; They processed 26,740 membership update changes.

Since teh start of the campaign we have processed 7,934 new membership applications. On balance since we started the campaign in January 2018 – we have gained 3,987 members so our current total membership is 58, 851. That's the highest it's been in quite some time.

Significantly, we now have as many members under the age of 40 as we do over that age. 

You see that in the new demographic – very visible at the demo – young women getting active in the union; finding strength and purpose in the collective; creating an absolute bedrock for the future growth of this union.

We have a record number of reps across the country: school and branch reps; equality reps and learning reps.

Our activists' networks are full – ASN, IMT and HT&DHT. And we have a strengthened sense of purpose about what it means to be the EIS – a professional association Yes – but a trade union also, history and muscle and intent.

That is critically important because – make it clear - we aren’t finished yet. 

The future of the Campaign

Our recent members, survey received more than 12,000 responses and it was clear that pay was important, but only marginally ahead of issues such as ASN and workload.

Our Value Education Value Teachers campaign continues therefore, as we seek to move these agendas forward – debates here at conference on class size and class commitment are critical. 

The pay deal signposted the future agenda with its references to tackling excessive workload; creating greater professional reward and empowering the profession. This last agenda is, I believe, critical to the future for Scottish Education.

I genuinely believe that there is an opportunity here for the profession and indeed for the whole education system, to embrace a model based on, not the top down management system which has bedevilled most of our teaching lives, but instead a system based on professional autonomy and characterised by collaboration, collegiality and cooperation. 

This would be a big prize and a big challenge. But it could transform working lives of our members.  

So it is an opportunity we should seize and a challenge we should rise to.

School empowerment

A year ago, the Scottish Government set aside the prospect of a new Education Bill designed to enforce empowerment (classic definition of an oxymoron) - this was a flawed concept from the start – and instead embarked upon a collaboration with COSLA through the Empowerment Working Group.

That was a big decision for the Scottish Government, the Deputy First Minister in particular, but it was the correct decision. One which we pushed for and one which we welcomed.

The EIS has been represented on that Working Group, President and Jean Miller, an occasional substitute, and I would say, not given to unbridled optimism, that the direction of travel is very positive.

The Headteacher Charter – but much more; about school empowerment. 

Work in progress still. Next year has been given over to schools and the system to absorb some of the ambition.

We need, at a school level, to engage meaningfully in this agenda. It gives us the tools to take greater control over our working lives and to prioritise that which we believe as professional educators will make a difference to our pupils and students.

If we wish to control workload – professional autonomy is a critical tool to do that.

We believe in teacher agency and we should demand delivery of the promises made around that concept 

We are looking to develop our Value Education Value Teachers campaign within this context. Next week at Executive and then again at the residential Executive in September setting our strategy to build this campaign.

istp conference 

David Edwards mentioned yesterday the ISTP conference that I attended earlier this year with the Deputy First Minister.

I'd like to thank David for his speech yesterday. He referenced the situation in some countries where to be a teacher trade unionist is to risk imprisonment and even death. The EIS is proud to be able to express our solidarity with sister trade unions around the globe through EI.

David holding a fringe event during the break and I hope some of you will get along to it.

Regarding the ISTP Conference, Scotland was only there because Michael Gove wouldn't go if he had to sit down with teacher unions. 

We went and we've hung in there. 

I'd like to share with you the three objectives: 

3 commitments –  

  • Pursue a joint approach to create a system wide culture of teacher agency which in turn will support greater empowerment and collaboration.  
  • Affirm our joint commitment, in the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare, to supporting the critical role of the Early Level of Curriculum for Excellence as the foundation for the best outcomes for children.  
  • To work jointly to ensure that a career in teaching is a trusted, attractive, highly qualified and varied career recognising this is essential to transform the lives of children and young people in Scotland.

In Finland I kept hearing that word -TRUST.

Finland has no HMIE – when one of the Government Education leads was asked how they monitored their system without an inspectorate, his reply was "We Trust our Teachers."

We want that same respect here in Scotland and we will assert our right to it. 

career pathways

So the Value Education Value Teachers campaign continues alongside our other workstreams. 

One of those workstreams concerns the Career Pathways report, which was published last week; as the outcome of last SNCT agreement. We are keen to engage with it and we will set out our stall shortly. Of course, we wish to see better career opportunities with time and financial reward built in but let's just ask the question of how we arrived here – Chartered Teacher and faculties are two of the culprits. 

Even now Dundee, a city which hosts our AGM, is threatening to introduce faculties and cut Principal Teacher posts. Will politicians never learn? Think again Dundee.

The third culprit is of course austerity. If new career pathways are to be established, they will require to be resourced. Austerity still grips the throat of public services and we need to challenge it. 

Work with other trade unions is vital in order to achieve this. In particular, because austerity is primarily UK driven Tories, work with the NEU, the largest education union in the UK.

We have previous partnership with the NUT and I look forward to same relationship with NEU.

FE and HE

Colleagues; before finishing this shortish speech, I would like to mention briefly some other key issues for the union. First is the College dispute – We are currently balloting our college members on an improved pay offer, but I expect a successful outcome. However, this took 6 days of strike action.

We have already balloted on national terms and conditions – and pay harmonisation so we have successfully chartered FE back to the public sector with national terms and conditions and decent pay. This was a hard won victory. 

The Scottish Goverment wouldn't have sat back and allowed 6 strike days in the school sector and they shouldn't have done so in the college sector. 

We want to see FE return to a focus on education. It is a critical sector for those who have been let down by schools, returning adults, particularly women; we want to see it properly funded.

I also want to mention ULA. They just completed the highest ballot win in years but were unfortunately beaten by the Tory Thresholds. The NJNCHES is holding back Scottish bargaining; we want to see a Scottish Committee and we want other UK unions to support that objective.

ULA may be a small player but our concerns are not going to be set aside. 


I have given you some data on effectively our union renewal agenda –  not just amongst activists but also among EIS staff.

We have 5 organisers who were critical to the success of the pay campaign.

I would like to say thank you to Brenda (McKinlay) – She's keeping a low profile but she's the one operating the red light down there.

Brenda started working with the EIS on 2nd June 1975, working in the Membership Dept.

She was transferred to the Executive Dept (now known as Organisation) and has probably attended more AGMs than anyone. Thank you for your service and best wishes in you retirement.

I mentioned earlier the growth in membership. But there has also been a growth in activists. 37 members are still on Council from when you were appointed in 2012. 

AGM delegates – 53 first time delegates –  you are very welcome. 

So on the back of the pay campaign colleagues, we are in rude health. We are in a positive place, as is the profession, but we are not complacent about the challenges that still lie ahead - indeed we relish the opportunities. 

I was very struck by Rowena Arshad's speech yesterday – and, in particular, her assertion that teaching itself is predicated on a message of hope and indeed one of faith in the future. 

The Educational Institute of Scotland is testimony to that view – and we will continue to fight for a society in which education and teachers are trusted and valued, social justice is the norm and prejudice and racism are called out and shamed. 

That is our mission statement colleagues – and we. 

We are the Educational Institute of Scotland!