‘Pay is likely to be biggest issue of the new session’

Larry Flanagan, general secretary, Educational Institute of Scotland

The Education Bill, a possibility of strike action over pay and concern over the implementation of on-going changes to qualifications loom large on the horizon this year...

Education has been centre stage in Scotland, politically, for some time now and 2018/19 doesn’t look like breaking that trend with on-going concerns around excessive workload, teacher shortages, and senior phase qualifications.

Pay, however, is likely to be the biggest issue of the new session.

The 10 per cent pay claim of the teachers’ side of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) has gathered momentum with the EIS’s Ten for 10 campaign resonating with teachers, highlighting as it does the reasons why Scottish teachers need and deserve a significant pay rise.

Scottish government seems to have recognised that a growing recruitment and retention challenge means that teachers’ pay has to be addressed, but to date the only offer tabled at the SNCT – three per cent for those earning more than £36,000 and two per cent for all others – failed to come close to meeting the aspiration of teachers and has been rejected.

Resolutions passed at the EIS AGM in June mean that EIS members will at least be balloted on the prospect of strike action if no satisfactory offer is made.

Teachers are frustrated that our employers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), failed to consider the matter over the summer, with no fresh offer emerging. Continued procrastination on its part only serves to fuel teacher discontent.

The irony of COSLA’s position, when it only recently sought support from teacher unions for the role of local government in terms of education governance, is not lost on us.

Scottish teachers are well aware of how far behind equivalent career choices teacher pay has fallen. They are also well aware of the challenge to both recruit and retain staff – Scottish schools are estimated to be starting the new term with more than 700 vacancies in schools, with some initial teacher education courses having failed again to reach their target intake. And teachers expect both Scottish government and COSLA to understand these issues and to produce a landmark settlement which addresses the needs of teachers and of Scottish education, ushering in a period of stability in our schools.

Ambitions to raise standards in education and to close the attainment gap will most certainly founder if our schools are plunged into the disruption that sustained industrial action undoubtedly would cause.

While an accommodation of sorts appears to have been reached between Scottish government and COSLA on the issue of governance, with the planned Education Bill being put on hold to allow a more consensual approach to be adopted, a teachers’ dispute will make agreement difficult to achieve.

The EIS welcomed the deputy first minister’s decision to seek a more consensual approach on governance. We had argued that schools actually needed some time to consolidate the various changes which have happened over the past period.

Equally important, we were strongly of the view that what is required in Scottish education is cultural rather than structural change, particularly around enabling teacher voice.

Rather oddly, a document subtitled Empowering Teachers had sections on headteachers, parents and pupils but barely a mention about teachers themselves. Collegial practice exists in our schools, but it is far from universal.

The EIS supports a developing agenda around increased collaborative practice and empowered professionalism, but enabling this will require a greater willingness on the part of those with formal “power” in our system to cede a considerable part of that to practitioners.

Qualification woes

This session also sees the removal of unit assessments at Higher, an objective agreed following the last bout of industrial action, short of strikes, by the EIS.

There has been an element of frustration in secondaries with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and how it handled a similar change at National 5, with many teachers feeling that the exams had been extended more than necessary and the continued provision, at the behest of the cabinet secretary for education, of RPA (Recognition of Prior Attainment) resulting, for many pupils and teachers, in increased assessment and workload rather than the promised reduction.

Disappointingly we seem to have drifted into the same scenario again this year, with the issues around N4 still unresolved. Hopefully the changes at Higher will be less problematic than those at N5.

Implementation of the senior phase had been a fragmented experience and, while schools have sought to protect pupils during the transition, the simple fact is that the big objectives – maintenance of breadth, time for deeper learning, parity of esteem between vocational and “academic”, and a focus on exit qualifications – all remain largely unfulfilled.

Education Scotland, in its new rebooted persona, has much work to do in moving the upper school timetable models to a more accommodating place for these original aims. As ever, then, a busy year ahead.

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