AGM 2022 President Speech

Created on: 08 Jun 2022 | Last modified: 26 Apr 2023


It’s a great pleasure for me to welcome all our prestigious guests including those from kindred organisations but especially you the delegates to the first in person AGM for three years.  

Made even more special as this is the 175th Anniversary of the EIS.

I want to thank The City of Dundee for hosting us in this magnificent Caird Hall where we are surrounded by both splendour and history.

I would also like to thank West Lothian Council for supporting me in my role as President this year and a particular mention to my Local Association Assistant Secretary Mark Bonallo who has taken on many of the local duties in West Lothian to allow me to fully participate in national EIS business.

This has been another year dominated by online meetings for the EIS. I have met many of you here through online platforms but not in person until now.

From March things started to open for us and society in general and since then myself and the other office bearers and officials have enjoyed in person meetings again locally, nationally and internationally. I for one have been very grateful for that opportunity as there is no real substitute for in person meetings, networking and debate.

But while things might be looking up to some degree, schools this year have remained challenging places due to the ongoing pandemic. To be clear colleagues, Covid isn’t finished with us yet.

It is not business as usual. We are in a recovery phase, and you know too well that school life is still far from normal.

For teachers and other school staff absences are still higher than pre-March 2020, but now stress related absences have overtaken obvious Covid driven absence. Much of this stress related absence is down to the huge pressures teachers have faced in dealing with the pandemic as well as the work-related stress that, quite unacceptably, continues to come with the territory of being a teacher. This is something that must be tackled as part of the longer-term recovery effort.

Teacher wellbeing needs to be factored into recovery plans. There has been yet another year of anxiety around Covid issues, uncertainty with SQA qualifications and continued Health and Safety concerns. Ventilation issues are far from resolved in many schools and Councils, and the withdrawal of compulsory mask wearing and provision for regular lateral flow testing by staff and young people were difficult adjustments to make for many after fighting so hard to have these mitigations put in place and when case rates were still high.

The EIS campaigned for the continuation of free testing for all school staff and young people, but it would seem that the cost of these vital mitigations come before the health and safety of staff and young people in schools.

Costs are the primary consideration when it comes to Long Covid too. Colleagues who have contracted long Covid are not being treated fairly with regards to sick pay and the categorisation. The EIS continues to fight on this issue on behalf of our members with COSLA and the Scottish Government through the SNCT.

How quickly these two organisations have forgotten the selflessness of teachers; teachers who worked all hours of the day and night, totally adapting their teaching, often learning new skills to move to online forums; and volunteering in their droves to staff HUBS and teach the most vulnerable children and young people and children of other essential workers so that they could keep our vital services running in the midst of the crisis.

Schools were the first establishments to fully open when many workers were still working from the safety of their homes.

Colleagues as always you stepped up in the staffing crisis caused by Covid absences in November and December. You went above and beyond doing your utmost trying to keep schools open for the young people you teach. As always you had their welfare at the centre of these selfless actions.

What was our reward for all these selfless interventions? A paltry  pay rise for 2021/22 and an insulting offer of 2% after we launched our 10% pay claim for 2022/23. A pay rise which should have been settled by April the 1st this year!

We are in the worst cost of living crisis for 40 years. RPI Inflation is sitting at 11% and forecast to go even higher. Record high fuel prices, energy costs up 54% and food prices escalating with every shop.

A 10% rise in our pay barely covers inflation now and is nowhere near the restorative pay rise our members need and deserve.

We must and will win this campaign for a cost-of-living pay rise. Colleagues our employers and Scottish Government have been given notice that the teachers of Scotland, led by the EIS, will campaign, will organise, will march, and if necessary, will ballot our members for industrial action. Make no mistake colleagues if no reasonable offer is made, with your mandate we will vacate our classrooms. We demand this pay rise for ourselves, for our families and for the future of education in Scotland.

Join us on Saturday here outside the Caird Hall for our pay campaign demo.

Let our employers and Scottish government see that we are serious in our pay campaign, and that they must come to the negotiating table with a credible offer if they are serious about ensuring the continuity of education by keeping schools open.

Our FELA colleagues are ahead of us in their fight for fair pay and we give them our full solidarity. Following a protracted campaign of industrial action involving both strike action and action short of strike action, they have now secured a better final offer of pay from Colleges Scotland Employers Association of a flat rated and consolidated £1000 uplift. EIS-FELA are balloting their members right now with a recommendation to accept.

We need a decent pay rise to stop the exodus of talented teachers and lecturers from the profession and to encourage our top graduates and students to join us.

Scotland needs teachers and lecturers. We have one of the most important jobs of all, educating and nurturing our next generations. We teach the knowledge, skills and attributes that make professionals in every field: those who care for us when we’re sick, disabled or old: those who build our roads, our houses, our hospitals and schools: and those who and those who entertain us with their songs and stories and art. Teachers teach our young people so that they’re able to participate in our democracy; so that they become the skilled workers, the wealth creators, the policy makers, the activists and culture creators.

We work with families, create responsible citizens who shape the Scotland that you and I are proud to be part of.  Teaching is much more than just a job.

There are many other issues in education in Scotland which must be addressed going forward.


The Scottish Government was elected on a manifesto pledge of reducing weekly class contact time for teachers from 22.5 hours to 21 hours.

We of course realise that this is a massive logistical challenge and have been patient during the scoping exercise and planning needed for such a major adjustment.

We welcome the move towards the reduced class contact hours but only on the basis that the extra 1.5 hours will be used by teachers for increased personal preparation and correction time and that the SNCT handbook is adjusted accordingly.

What we will not welcome is extra QA, management directed moderation or CPD. We need teachers to be empowered to make the decisions themselves for the best use of that time.

The class contact reduction is a move towards levelling up with other OECD countries who teach far fewer weekly hours than us.

It must ensure that we have more time for preparation, marking and differentiation. We know that it’s these activities that contribute to increased achievement and attainment, better behaviour in classes, greater equity of outcome and less stressed, overworked teachers.

This is only part of the picture though and we must address the other inequity in Scotland’s schools compared with other OECD countries and that is class size. As well as Scotland having amongst the most contact hours in schools, we also have amongst the largest class sizes.

These two issues should be addressed together if we are to make a lasting improvement on the educational experiences of young people in Scotland and the working lives of teachers.

The EIS have and will continue to call for a maximum of 20 contact hours weekly and a maximum of 20 young people in all classes no matter what age, stage or subject in mainstream education.

Our 20:20 campaign is very much at the forefront of our policy ambition for Scotland’s young people and teachers.

I talked earlier about teacher’s pay being key but for many of you workload remains the number one area for concern and for the EIS to address. Our Health and Wellbeing survey carried out in November 2021 clearly demonstrated our members concerns and frustrations over this. From the nearly 16,000 responses, it was clear that 45% of you work more than an additional 8 hours over the contracted 35 hours per week, with a further 23.7% working an additional 5-7 extra hours every week.

That combined is nearly 69% of the total workforce working in excess of 5 hours unpaid every single week. This is totally unsustainable and must be addressed. This is not about teachers being super diligent and wanting to excel in every field but rather about them keeping their heads above water and surviving. They are drowning in workload!

Reasons given for working so many extra hours were being over class committed, dealing with ASN issues, differentiation of materials, pressures from school improvement plans, council led initiatives, pressures over constant quality assurance, too much tracking and monitoring, and relentless requests for more and more data. Much of that for statistical analysis and nothing to do with actual teaching and learning.

We signed a tackling bureaucracy pledge with Councils and Scottish Government back in 2014 but our members are not seeing any of that in practice within education.

It’s safe to say that teachers in Scotland are struggling. They are struggling to do the job that they have spent years training for. Even the most experienced teachers who’ve spent decades performing the role are straining to cope.

From early career to experienced teachers, they are struggling because they don’t have the tools necessary to help all the young people in front of them and to provide that all round quality education that they aspire to deliver.

We live in a society where more and more young people are being diagnosed with ever more complicated additional support needs. Many young people are struggling from their experiences over the last two years and many more have regressed in their learning due to Covid lockdowns and disruption.

Today teachers are far better equipped to recognise and diagnose the additional support needs that more and more young people have. Those who struggle with learning, with behaviour with social development and interaction. The main struggle lies with lack of support once diagnosis is made.

Most schools have full classes, up to 33 in some stages and subjects, with one class teacher. How can one teacher teach their whole class differentiated in any number of ways to meets the needs of all the young people in front of them and provide the additional support needed by young people diagnosed with ASN.

The answer is they can’t!

Teachers simply can’t successfully provide this without additionality in the system. We desperately need more specialised ASN teachers and assistants, more training in this area and critically more money and resources to bring all of this about. The lack of appropriate support in some circumstances can lead to young people exhibiting violent and aggressive behaviour.

Teachers go to their workplaces to teach. To work with young people to help them grow and develop into successful learners, effective contributors, responsible citizens and confident individuals.

That is what the curriculum for excellence aspires to achieve.

Many teachers are thwarted from achieving these goals- facing violent and disruptive behaviour in their classrooms. Not just being subjected to threatening language but sustaining real physical injuries. I’m not talking about a few isolated cases; violent incidents are happening more and more in our schools because the young people and teachers are not getting the support, they need to prevent them from happening.

Teachers don’t come to work to be abused both verbally and physically and action needs to be taken to tackle the root causes of these issues now.

Teachers often feel unsupported when reporting these issues. All too often they are made to feel that the blame lies with them and not with the lack of support for young people who are expressing their frustrations over the lack of appropriate support or for many particularly those with social and emotional difficulties, the inappropriate environment they are expected to learn in. These are the reasons they lash out.

Without the necessary tools and resources that allow all young people to learn and grow and develop, what is being badged as inclusion is far from it.

The EIS supports inclusion but not this unsupported, under resourced model that teachers are currently forced to deliver. It doesn’t work for us, and it certainly doesn’t work for the young people corralled into inappropriate, inadequately supported learning environments.

The Morgan review failed to capitalise on the most important issue surrounding ASN and that is on the critical issue of resources. We need many more appropriately trained ASN specialist teachers, those currently in ASN roles to be protected to do their jobs without being first in line for absence cover and we need many more of our very valuable ASN learning assistants in classes.

Training and CLPL in this area for all teachers is also key to making education an enjoyable fulfilling experience for all learners and teachers alike. It’s way past time for the Scottish Government to put its money where its mouth is and properly fund ASN provision.

Colleagues it isn’t all doom and gloom. A further manifesto pledge promised an additional 3,500 teachers would be in post during the life of the current parliament. We truly welcome this commitment.

But we must push to make sure that money to pay for these teachers is ringfenced by the Scottish Government. Any additional funding earmarked for additional teaching posts must be used for this purpose.

If we train these teachers, we must give them a permanent position at the end of their probationary year. What a waste of talent and investment if that is not the case. Worse still would be the lost opportunity to lower class sizes and contact hours which would benefit all those involved in education.

And let’s not lose either the highly qualified, highly skilled teachers we already have in the system. Not to secure them with permanent contracts after all those years of training and service is a disgrace and something that we’ll keep campaigning on. We need to have all shoulders to the wheel on Education recovery.

After the last two plus years we’ve lived through, teachers are exhausted. They feel downtrodden, and totally let down by government and employers.

Bet we will soon have our summer break and will come back energised after that and ready to take on the fight for all the things I’ve highlighted and many more.

We are the EIS, and we will stand together to fight on many fronts for ourselves and the young people in our care. We have many battles ahead of us but together we are strong. 175 Years Strong and we will continue to be the defenders and practitioners of an education system that Scotland should be proud of.

I can’t finish this address without mentioning the General Secretary Larry Flanagan.

You are aware that this is his last AGM after being in the role for the last 10 years.

You will hear from him personally tomorrow.

I wanted to say on all our behalf that we are grateful for all that he has done for us over the last 10 years and before that in his role as Education Convenor and activist.

He is leaving us stronger than he found us. He steered us to success in our 2018 pay campaign for 10% and kept us safe through the pandemic by tirelessly pressing on our behalf for health and safety mitigations.

His achievements are too numerous to outline here. As the President of ETUCE, he is continuing to utilise his unrivalled trade union skills of negotiation and communication. Council last month selected the new General Secretary who’ll be taking over from Larry in September. I’d like to formally congratulate Andrea Bradley on her successful appointment.

I know having the first ever female General Secretary of the EIS will keep us strong and grow us even stronger in the years to come.

It has been an honour being the President of the EIS this year. I wish our new President and Vice-president all the best in their term of office and special thanks go to Carole Thorpe Ex-President who had the difficult role of having her presidency solely online. You did a great job Carole in the most trying of circumstances.

Finally, colleagues enjoy the conference. We look forward to hearing some passionate speeches and debates. This day has been longed for by all of us and I know we will all make the most of the opportunities this 175th conference of our great union brings.

Thank you.