Created on: 09 Jun 2023 | Last modified: 13 Jul 2023
It’s an honour and a privilege to address the EIS AGM for the very first time as General Secretary.
I took up the role on the 1st August last year –10 months, 1 week and 2 days ago- and over that time with the pay campaign catapulting us into action, I’ve spoken at rallies all around the country- in cosy hotel function suites and in cold town squares; I’ve spoke in real-life tv studios and at all hours of the day and night; from the studio that I had to keep make-shifting in my hall where my desk is; I’ve spoken live on the radio live from Pacific Quay…and from my living room, and from my car, pulling over into a bus stop in the middle of Edinburgh and into laybys on country roads; and I even spoke outside the Scottish Parliament from the roof a fire engine…
I’ve been in many situations this past year that I’d never in my life expected to find myself… but this today definitely tops them all.
As someone who’s been in awe of trade unionists from about the age of four or five, when my dad took me on my first May Day march… when I had my very first sight of the trade union movement as a section of it marched through the sunny streets of Glasgow, I’m almost pinching myself as a I stand here before you- the Annual General Meeting- the Sovereign Body- of this great union of ours. The honour of my life.
This great Union that marked its 175th anniversary last year…when we proudly celebrated being 175 years strong!
The last 50 of those years began our transformation to becoming what we are today- a strong, campaigning union. And the final ten of those years under Larry’s leadership were hugely significant in helping us get to where we are today. For that, I’m very grateful and I know that you will be too. Thanks, Larry- and for your patient counsel throughout this year.
As those 175 celebrations last year drew to a close, we were determined, resolute…that as we moved into our 176th year that we’d grow even stronger ...and in the past year, we have done exactly that. Of that there can be no doubt.
We’ve trained and flexed and firmed our trade union muscle- for most of us like never before. We have more members than ever before. More reps in our schools than ever before. More activists than ever before.
This is how we’ve recovered from the restrictions that Covid forced on our trade union activity. This is how we’ve emerged from the first major battle over pay in 40 years.
Our members are better off than they were this time last year and we’re even stronger as a union. Even bigger and even more organised. We’re stronger for sound education as our AGM strapline says.
The past year has been a trial by fire. A true test of the collective strength, solidarity and courage of the EIS and its members. And it’s a trial…a test… that we’ve come through with flying colours- that vibrant pink and green of the Pay Attention campaign!
As activists you’ve agitated, organised, educated and energised out of your skins. Picket lines, placards and campaign parties- you did it all! And you did it with humour and gusto and style!
From the Lanarkshire’s North and South, to Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeenshire, from Inverness to Stirling, West Lothian, East Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde, and all the other places too – I was impressed with how members strutted their campaign colours – their strike-chic- on the picket lines and at our high energy pay rallies.
The now-famous EIS beret is iconic– it’s the height of trade union vogue. We’ve become trade union merchandise influencers!
But you weren’t just about the style. You brought the substance into the Pay Attention campaign too. At rallies, on the telly and on the radio, you brilliantly articulated the rightness and justness of the teachers’ pay claim- never flustered by an awkward question, never being backed into a corner, never losing your cool…always professional.
And by telling it like it was, with honesty and integrity and conviction, you won over the public, you won over the parents,and you won over the presenters on the BBC and on STV and even Sky and GB News.
There were those who hoped that we’d crash and burn.That the fiery energy that we saw at last year’s AGM when we launched the Pay Attention campaign in Dundee, would maybe spark a bit then fizzle out.
A damp squib of a campaign- teachers too tired for the fight after Covid. Not so – You and EIS members up and down Scotland were a like a box of fireworks – firecrackers and rockets and Catherine wheels that just kept going and going and going, lighting up the streets, the front pages of newspapers, and tv and social media screens.
A constant sea of pink and green. Even Marks and Spencers and Primark copied our fabulous campaign colours!
There were those that doubted us. Those that hoped, even predicted, that EIS members wouldn’t turn out in their tens of thousands to vote yes to strike in the Autumn months in our consultative ballot and then the clincher- our statutory ballot. But we were ballot ready, organised, and they were wrong!
As we geared up for that first strike day – there were those that tried to gaslight and guilt trip, and half-guessed that teachers would stay in their classrooms rather than take their places on our picket lines on November 24th.
But you didn’t.
You stood proudly, bravely, shoulder to shoulder with your colleagues- teachers, IMTS, Educational Psychologists… all taking action together when the time came for the very first day of strike action over pay in 40 years!
The first ever strike action over teachers’ pay in Scotland since that historic trade union tug of war with Thatcher.
That tug of war that we won and that we still remember and celebrate. We were the only union to beat Thatcher!
It took two years of strike action but we won that too. 14.99% over two years- 90% voting yes on a ballot turnout of 80%. More than a wee bit of déjà vu in that… Another fight…another win. And thanks again to Alan Scott for uncovering that wee gem of history.
Throughout our whole campaign – the gamblers guessed wrong and we were strike strong.
But let’s be in no doubt - right from the outset of this Campaign, we’ve had to dig deep, and fight a battle that we shouldn’t have had to fight in the first place. Fair pay should be a given in a fair work nation.
For five months…five months… COSLA and the Scottish Government dangled an offer of 5% in front of teachers. They dressed it up a wee bit differently the second time it came in…dressed it up as an emperor’s new clothes of an offer- hoping that would fob us off, wear us down and loosen our resolve.
Not only did that amount to a complete failure to read the room…not only was it an underestimation of teachers’ strength of feeling of about being underpaid and under-valued… it was yet another failure to grasp that teachers can read and count… That they can read and count very well… Very well indeed.
And not only that but you teach our children to read and count very well in classrooms up and down the country every… single… day.
Your Primary 6’s would have seen right through those attempts to serve up a shoddy reheat rather than a fresh new and decent proposal on pay. Your primary 6’s would have rejected that offer without blinking. And so did we.
And when the emperor’s new clothes and the smoke and mirrors didn’t work, they tried shaming teachers. Implied that teachers were being greedy, they were overclaiming…Look how much of a pay rise the teachers have had already since 2018…
They tried that age-old tactic of divide and conquer - of looking to play one group of workers off against another. That’s a tactic that’s founded on fear- fear of the solidarity amongst trade unionists that transcends union boundaries.
Trade unionists don’t resent one another’s wins- we celebrate them. We know that an injury to one is an injury to all. We know that unity is our greatest strength. And we know that a victory for one is a victory for all in the never-ending struggle for decent jobs, pay and conditions for workers all over the country…all over the world. By our very nature, we’re solidarity- strong.
COSLA and the Scottish Government hoped that the pressures of the cost of living crisis would bite and bite, especially in the wake of Christmas with the expense and the bills and the debt from that.
They hoped that teachers wouldn’t – just couldn’t- sacrifice more salary and be on strike and shut schools again at the turn of the new year.
And there’s no doubt that many of our members were struggling with rising costs and the loss of pay.
But you gritted your teeth, you braved the January cold…and every Primary and Secondary school on the mainland of Scotland was shut on either the 10th or 11th January. EIS members were strike-solid again at the turn of the year.
Then COSLA and the Scottish Government miscalculated that members would clamour to be balloted on what became the penultimate offer of 6 and 5.5%– after it had been leaked to the media by persons unknown.
No one seems to know who leaked it. Maybe Ms or Mr Nobody but they had the details of the offer out on social media and in the BBC before it was even sent to the unions.
Minutes after the leak, Scottish Government and COSLA were press releasing on what a brilliant offer it was, how it should be snapped up quickly to avoid new tax brackets and how it should be put to union members right away.
They calculated that would start the clamour for a ballot. But EIS members didn’t clamour.
You trusted the EIS Salaries Committee who could see a mile off that this was yet another tactic straight out of the anti-trade union playbook- force a ballot on any offer with the aim that bit by bit sections of the membership are lured away from the struggle, tempted off the picket lines; and the power of the union to win the dispute is weakened and ultimately the wage bill kept down.
It really amounted to meddling with our trade union democracy. Trying to sway our members towards acceptance of a sub-standard offer before our own democratically elected committees had even seen it.
But again you stayed strong and resisted that pressure.
Thank you to all of you for that limitless energy, for sacrificing pay on strike days for the greater good, for your courage when the going got tough and for the trust in the national leadership of the EIS within the Salaries and Executive Committees. Thank you for every single day of it.
And a special thank you to our national Office Bearers- Andrene, Paula and Heather- who gave their all to the Pay Attention Campaign…on the picket lines, at the pay rallies, and at every single national meeting on pay…and there were a lot of them. Three brilliant women who’ve helped lead a brilliant campaign that locally was led by hundreds and hundreds more brilliant women. And men.
And to Des and Mick the Convener and Vice Convener of the Salaries Committee who were at the sharp end of the negotiations, week after week, acutely aware of the weight of responsibility that carried. They took nothing lightly.
And despite the pressure from all directions to put that offer to members, our Salaries Committee, did what they’re elected to do and that’s act in the best interests of EIS members. To look critically at the terms and conditions of any offer and weigh them up and judge just how good they are.
After hitting social media and STV the night before, that substandard offer was rejected and Des told the Scottish Government and COSLA that they had to think again. That the EIS would only put an offer to members that was credible.
Colleagues, we made it crystal clear to those on the opposite side of the negotiating table that the EIS is an independent organsiation. We’re a trade union whose members make democratic decisions that we stick with no matter what way the wind’s blowing on a particular day, no matter how tricky our employers might try to be, no matter which political party is in power and no matter what suits their political agenda at any given time.
The EIS does the democratic bidding of our members- not what happens to suit COSLA and the Scottish Government or anyone else.
The EIS held the line, held steady and did what was right by our members and by the democracy that this union has built over our 176-year history. Because we don’t do democracy-light, we don’t run democracy deficits…the EIS does democracy-diamond class.
It was our democratic decision-making that led to the targeted strikes in key constituencies. Full credit to the members in Glasgow Southside, Perth and Kinross (North), Dunfermline and Clydebank- Milngavie for carrying out those three extra days of action after the 16 days of rolling strikes across all 32 local authorities.
Those three days really turned the screws on the key decision-makers, shone a harsh spotlight on their dither and delay, their selective use of statistics and their spin, and the glaring gap between their rhetoric of Fair Work and the reality of their refusal to pay teachers fairly for the essential work that they do.
Without a doubt, it was the threat of another three days of those targeted strikes, including in a key Dumfries and Galloway constituency, that brought the Deputy First Minster to the table… finally with the money.
Des, Mick, David, Louise and I were coming straight off picket lines in the morning to sit around the table with the DFM – and that dynamic was instrumental in leveraging a better offer. And a couple of days later, when that offer came in, the Salaries Committee voted that it was worth putting to the membership. Even though it wasn’t for a full 10%. Even though we hadn’t been able to get the pay cap entirely removed. But negotiation almost always features compromise and the realpolitik of the situation was stark to see.
When it came to the ballot, 90% of members agreed that the offer was worth accepting- still a real terms pay cut but a decent offer in the circumstances and one that gave us a stepping stone on our undifferentiated pay restoration journey.
And we will continue that journey. 6 months from now, we’ll be submitting our next pay claim.
From now until them we’ll be keeping an eye on the lie of the land, building our narrative, strengthening the alliances that we’ve already built, and looking to build new ones.
And the other thing that we’ll be doing is blasting the Scottish Government and anyone else who tries to blame teachers and the teachers’ pay deal for any disgraceful decisions that they make to cut the funding to FE and HE, or to roll back on commitments to free school meals expansion, or to stop funding for Masters’ Level learning programmes for teachers. Teachers’ pay should have nothing to do with any of these things.
Education must be properly funded and that includes paying the people who deliver it properly.
Teachers should be hearing apologies from the Scottish Government for what they’ve been put through, not the language of scape-goating and blame… and the EIS won’t be slow to point the finger right back any time that happens.
Colleagues, we made some good ground in the Pay Attention campaign- some very good ground- but all the while there’s more to be done… we don’t stop. We keep our eyes on the pay restoration prize and we stay campaign-strong. Because we know the value of teachers in delivering quality education for our children and young people. We know the value of education as a social good. That’s why at this AGM we’ll be launching a new national campaign for proper funding for Education as a vital and valuable public service.
Education as a social good that strives for the social justice that would make Scotland a fairer, more equal place to live and work and learn. We’ll be using every ounce of that very well-toned campaigning muscle as we pivot to tackle the scandalous underfunding of ASN, your crippling workload, the boundless bureaucracy that swallows up your time, and the health and safety risks that are intensifying daily amidst large class sizes and lack of additional support, including for mental health, in the aftermath of the pandemic and a decade of austerity before that.
Colleagues, an increase in violent incidents and distressed behaviour are the consequence of not listening to the voices of teachers as they’ve called for more support for children and young people whose mental health is fragile… and as the EIS and others have called for more support for teachers and other school staff whose wellbeing continues to take a battering as schools struggle with Covid recovery.
Our most recent member survey says it all:
72.5% of our members are stressed all of the time or frequently at their work…
34% said their stress levels were so high that they negatively affect their work and/or personal life…
Only 2% of our members can do all that they’re asked within their contracted hours- their 35 hour working week…
38% said that they can never complete everything they’re asked to do within their set hours…
Only 3% said they’d enough time for the necessary preparation and correction within their working week…
42% said they never have enough time for this part of their contract and always have to spend some of their own time…
70% spend between 5 and 7 extra hours unpaid per week…
41% are working more than 8 additional unpaid hours every week…
That amounts to the vast majority of teachers working at least a day a week extra for no pay…
Colleagues, it’s plain to see that teachers are massively subsidising the Scottish Education system.
Of course because you care about education and about the children and young people you teach. Of course you do.
But there’s a huge cost to teachers’ wellbeing and morale. 44% of members said that they feel poor or very poor wellbeing at work. This is unsustainable and it’s unacceptable.
Teachers know what the solutions are and they’re not yoga, mindfulness or deep breathing…
We need to see the Scottish Government’s manifesto commitments to reduce teachers’ class contact time, delivered. No more dither, no more delay. We need solid action to reduce workload as promised, and we need it now.
And our new campaign will be going after that.
The extra non class contact time has to be within teachers’ control otherwise workload will intensify and the days and days and days of free work per teacher per week will be more.
Our new campaign will be clear- that’s… just…not… happening.
Neither is the continued underfunding of Additional Support Needs provision. We agree with Professors Alma Harris and Carole Campbell who led the National Discussion that we need to see the additional investment that will let Scotland finally deliver on the promise of ASN legislation for children, young people and families.
We know that this is critical to reducing the poverty-related achievement and attainment gap, and to tackling the unsustainable levels of teacher workload that are being driven by the underfunding of the presumption to mainstreaming and the complete lack of honesty about what’s really going on now that 34% of young people in our schools have a recognised support need.
Tens of thousands of teachers are in classrooms every day working almost singlehandedly to respond to the growing number, range and complexity of additional needs, feeling like they just can’t do the job that they want to do for anyone. That has a grinding impact on morale.
Colleagues, we look to be a long way off from genuine recovery.
We’ve seen teacher numbers fall overall for the first time in five years. This is despite the manifesto promise of class contact reduction and the promise of additional teachers. The recent Scottish Government commitment to protect teacher numbers is absolutely essential and they need to stick to it.
Smaller class sizes must still be in our 20:20 sights. In schools all over the country, teachers continue to drown in paperwork that contributes nothing to the quality of learning and teaching in their classrooms, and yet dysfunctional behaviours driven by hierarchy and accountability agendas continue to demand it.
The reform of the inspectorate has to ensure a shift in culture and a different set of working practices. We need to see approaches that are people-centred rather than paper-driven. We need to see new governance arrangements for the new agencies that don’t just feature satellite consultation with teachers, but that have teacher voice, represented by teacher unions, right at the decision-making table.
We need to avoid yet another democracy deficit and be bolder about making way for the voice of teachers in the future architecture of our education system. What we don’t want or need either, is the same old SQA simply rebranded. Teachers will see right through that and will be raging if years of education reform and hundreds of promises come to nothing. We need real, honest reform that finally gives us a qualifications body that serves the needs of learners and the teachers and lecturers who support them.
That’s why we’ve pushed and pushed and pushed over the past year’s work on Education Reform for the EIS to be at the table on behalf of our members.
And we’ve succeeded.
We’ve directly contributed to the Hayward Review, to the National Discussion, and on the Delivery Boards that are overseeing the replacement of Education Scotland and the SQA. We’ve made sure that the EIS has not been left out of any of the essential deliberations that will have a direct bearing on the future of Scottish education.
The empowerment of Scottish teachers must become a living reality and not just words in a suite of unused documents, gathering dust on shelves or sitting unseen in digital files. The empowerment agenda must be front and centre of all that we do going forward.
We’ll use it to support our members to say no: when enough is enough on workload, on the lack of ASN provision, on the rising incidence of violent and aggressive behaviour and the health and safety risks within that.
The empowerment agenda is what we’ll use to give our members the confidence to say yes…yes to taking a role in school-based decision making, yes to acting collectively to gain a better work life balance and yes to better health and safety at work.
We’ll make sure to be at the summit that the Cabinet Secretary has announced to look at behaviour in schools and that it leads to real action and real resources rather than just talk.
To come back to the survey data and specifically what it’s saying about teacher retention…Only around half of teachers said they plan to stay in teaching for the next five years. Only 18% said they were likely or very likely to recommend teaching as a good profession. This is a 3% drop from when we last asked that question in 2021. All of this should scream out that Education needs greater priority within government and our new campaign will be focused on just that.
It’s safe to say, colleagues, that all through the Pay Attention campaign and even since the pay deal was signed, the EIS hasn’t stopped. Our staff haven’t stopped. They’ve barely paused for breath.
They’ve continued their phenomenal effort and commitment on behalf of members whether in the Print Room or the Comms Office or at disciplinary hearings or on picket lines or in the Council chamber…everywhere in the organisation.
As General Secretary, I’ve seen more of that work first hand and have been massively impressed by my colleagues’ expertise and their willingness to help one another as they look to deliver what our members need. They are the bee’s best knees, in my book.
They’ve worked to grow our Equality work across all equality strands and to set up a new young members’ network this year. They’ve helped make sure that the EIS has been constantly in and about all corners of Education Reform…Kept us active on the NQ23 Working and Steering Groups. Kept ensuring that our Professional Learning offer to members is second to none.
Helped kick-start the EIS FELA Fighting for the Future of Further Education Campaign…Run ballot after ballot…One at Northfield Academy to get action on violent behaviour in the school and it did. Another to kick-start action short of strike across FE as part of the campaign in pursuit of fair pay for lecturers who’ve now been waiting for nine months for a pay rise amidst a cost of living crisis…In Higher Education for a decent pay rise. Strike action at the City of Glasgow College to fight compulsory redundancies… Threatened strike action at Edinburgh College to fight compulsory redundancies… Strike action to protect pensions and to protest at aggressive fire and rehire tactics at Hutcheson’s Grammar…Brought the AGM to Aviemore for the very first time…EIS staff haven’t stopped.
And we’ve carried on our international work with EI, ETUCE, TUAC, with trade unions in Australia, and through ISTP and ARC…Despite the challenges at home, the EIS has continued our steadfast commitment to internationalism because we know the value of it to education and to trade unionism both home and abroad.
At home we’ve played our part in fighting against the Tories’ disgraceful anti-strike legislation Kevin Courtney talked about yesterday. The Tories claim that this anti-worker legislation is about minimum service guarantees on strike days within key services, including Education. For a start, these guarantees are already in place in services that protect life and limb.
And the EIS wholeheartedly welcomes a minimum service guarantee –not on strike days, but on every single day of the school term. We’d happily agree a minimum guarantee that every child that comes to school gets a hot, nutritious and free meal…a minimum guarantee that every child with additional support needs gets the specialist support and resources they’re entitled to…a minimum guarantee that every school is staffed by teachers and support staff on proper professional pay who are properly safe at their work.
This anti-strike legislation has zero to do with protecting public services and everything to do with a right-wing government led by millionaires attacking the rights of working people to act collectively to defend their livelihoods and to protect the public services that we all cherish. Colleagues, through the STUC and the TUC we’ll continue doing our bit to resist this latest Tory attack on workers’ rights. We’ll do our bit to make sure that the Scottish Government holds true to its promise not to implement the legislation in Scotland… To make sure that the Labour Party delivers on repealing this and the 2016 anti-trade union legislation that was also designed to keep an anti-worker foot on the neck of our democratic trade union functions. The EIS will continue the fight to protect our right- our workers’ right… our human right…to strike.
Because history- and our very recent history at that- has taught us over and over that our right to take strike action is what delivers the outcomes that our members need as workers, as citizens and as human beings.
And its part of our continuing fight-back against poverty and against the neoliberal ideology that’s founded on the belief that profit is prioritised above people. An ideology whose toxicity seeps right into our public service provision here in Scotland- including into Education across all sectors. An ideology and an associated economy that sees ordinary people, ordinary workers, be the collateral damage in the race to amass billions in wealth for a privileged few who’re already drowning in money that they can’t and largely don’t spend in our economy.
They stack it up and stash it away, avoiding tax- tax that should be funding better public services, in the interests of the majority in our society rather than a privileged few.The motion from Council on taxation should be useful to us going forward. As teachers and lecturers who work to support students from working class backgrounds, you know the havoc that the decade of austerity before the pandemic wreaked on children, young people, students…their families and communities.
Last year, a study by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and the University of Glasgow concluded that between 2012 and 2019 there were almost 335,000 more deaths than expected as a result of the Tory UK Government policy of austerity. The academics who carried out the research stated that these premature deaths are directly linked, directly linked… to Tory cuts in public services and social security.
These austerity-impacts are on the extremes but our own members have been experiencing in-work poverty, a small but concerning number of them having to use foodbanks, getting into debt, more of them having to apply to the Benevolent Fund that’s been a lifeline for many this year.
And our members are seeing first-hand the impact of the cost of living crisis on the students that they teach. BBC Scotland research recently identified that thousands of children in Scotland are now being treated for malnutrition.
If we were in any doubt before, even against the backdrop of burgeoning foodbank use in Scotland, that hunger and malnutrition are an endemic feature of 21st century Scotland, because of calculated political decisions of a rich elite, then we know it now.
That thousands of children are going to school across Scotland, not only hungry but malnourished in the truest medical sense of the word, is frankly immoral- and it’s utterly unacceptable. That’s why the EIS has partnered so strongly with the STUC Women’s Committee on its Food for Thought campaign- supported by the full STUC.
The campaign aim is the expansion of free school meals to all children and young people of nursery and school age- from Early Years through to S6 because we know, as you do, colleagues, that the hunger and stigma and shame that come from means-testing school meals provision doesn’t stop at Primary 5 or Primary 7.
You know that growing brains need sustenance and that hungry children and young people can’t learn.
So the EIS will continue campaigning until every single child from Primary 1 to Sixth Year has the daily dignity and the health and wellbeing and the social benefits of a meal at school that’s free of cost and free of stigma.
Not least because we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis. And the trade union movement must keep being front and centre of the emergency response to it.
If we don’t, we’ll see more hunger and food insecurity, more health inequalities, more mental health anguish, more poverty and poverty-related stigma across our society and in our education establishments and that’ll amount to poorer experiences and outcomes and fewer life chances for the poorest of our young citizens.
We need to keep fighting together for decent public services, including Education, and decent public sector pay and conditions as part of that. We need to see more walking the walk on equity, fair work and on social justice and equality when it comes to support for Education from our government and employers.
The working conditions of our teachers and lecturers are the learning conditions of our children, young people and students. We need both to be much, much better. And we’ll continue to fight for that as a union. A union that continues to grow even stronger for sound education.
As for me…I’ll get on with my bit of it. And every single day will be an honour.