The General Secretary of the EIS has used his annual report to a special online meeting of the EIS Council to call for the recruitment of more teaching staff, and an emphasis of ensuring equity in education, as Scotland seeks to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

The special meeting of the EIS Council was arranged following the enforced cancellation of the EIS Annual General Meeting, the Institute’s sovereign decision-making body, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Flanagan said, “When you put pressure on a structure, you very quickly see the fault lines that exist. This has been true of COVID 19, particularly in respect of poverty and inequality in society. Equity is a key issue for education – how we can help young people overcome barriers linked to poverty and disadvantage? We need to see significant change, not just politicians at local or national level talking about the issues, but real change that will improve society.”

Mr Flanagan continued, “Supporting pupils’ emotional wellbeing will be extremely important once schools return after the summer. Young people have experienced major difficulties, such as growing seclusion and enforced separation from friends. We need to focus on providing nurturing support for young people to help them overcome the level of trauma they are facing – and we will need additional staff to achieve this.”

Highlighting the reported difficulty some newly qualified teachers (NQTs) continue to face securing employment, Mr Flanagan said, “The lack of employment for NQTs is a scandal at this time – this is something that local authorities and Scottish Government must work together to sort out.  This is about supporting the educational recovery of Scotland’s children.”

Mr Flanagan added, “It is disappointing that politics seems to have returned to normal – with binary arguments for and against the approach that government is taking on COVID-19 recovery. It is very disheartening for schools and teachers to be drawn into this political wrangle – the focus for everyone should be on supporting educational recovery, for the good of our young people.”

On the plans for schools to re-open following the summer, Mr Flanagan said, “The return on August 11 can only happen if it is safe. Schools are planning for that date, but this is contingent on the virus being under control. It is absolutely clear that teachers, like parents and pupils, would love to see a full return to school.  But there can be no compromise on safety.  There will need to be a significant shift in the health picture before we can see schools operating at anything close to normal.”

Mr Flanagan also called for absolute clarity on a number of key issues for the next school session: “One week from the end of term, we still have no idea of what next year’s SQA qualifications arrangements will be. Teachers and pupils need clarity on this now. On blended learning, we need additional resources, and additional staff, if this is to be an effective model of education for young people. We also need clarity of childcare provision for teachers who will be returning to schools after the summer – including guidance on who will be expected to support blended learning for teachers’ own children while they are teaching in schools.”

In addition to the General Secretary’s speech and the processing of essential business matters, such as the approval of the Institute’s accounts and planned expenditure for the year, today’s special meeting of the EIS Council also approved several changes to the EIS constitution, and heard speeches from outgoing EIS President Bill Ramsay and from the new General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), Roz Foyer.