Hugh Reilly: SSTA’s D-day plans show martial naiveté

Hugh Reilly. Picture: Robert Perry
Hugh Reilly. Picture: Robert Perry
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LAST weekend, anti-teacher forces picked up belligerent chatter emanating from the GHQ of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association.

General (secretary) Alan “Big Mac” McKenzie called for a “D-day invasion” against the Axis of Evil: politicians, “ill-informed parents” and “out-of-control youngsters”. Inside the SSTA bunker, the war cabinet discussed forging a closer alliance with the largest teacher army, the EIS. When McKenzie saw uniformed women with headphones pushing things around with long sticks, he imagined they were WRACs giving battle updates. Sadly, they were merely cleaners listening to Smooth Radio as they swept up discarded SSTA leaflets.

In his Churchillian address to his beleaguered militia, McKenzie gave two fingers to those who dare question the profession. Speaking from the heart of his siege-mentality, he condemned the “worrying animosity” from the aforementioned stakeholders plus two more he had just thought of: local authorities and the General Teaching Council. He spoke in grave terms of the consequences of a defeat. “Without such an invasion I fear, frankly, for the survival of teacher unions as we know and love them, and without teacher unions we are lost.”

As a child Big Mac, like me, probably played with those tiny plastic soldiers who were demobbed after one too many tots ingested a platoon. Despite his experience in dining-table-top military manoeuvres, he has shown martial naiveté. First, by announcing his attack in advance, he has lost the element of surprise. The Afrika Corps, sorry, press corps, will undoubtedly go on the offensive and test his defence of chalkies. The mums and dads army will assault his claims of their ignorance on the education front and the ill-disciplined guerrilla groups of teenagers will call up social worker reinforcements to help deal with LSED (Low Self-Esteem Disorder) ignited by McKenzie firing from the lip.

Secondly, choosing May to stick his head above the parapet is the biggest military mistake since Leonidas challenged thousands of Persian Immortals to a square-go, shouting: “Bring it on if you think you’re hard enough!” Thanks to SQA exams, half of all year groups are enjoying study leave, the academic calendar as blank as Quasimodo’s dance card. To be fair, there is diversionary activity. Headmasters instigate pointless meetings for inane committees but, despite their best efforts, there are unconfirmed reports of education ennui.

McKenzie’s macho bluster oozes irony, given that the bravery of his foot soldiers is less SAS, more It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. At the first inkling of resistance to the SSTA’s world view, the union Tsar will be the leader of a desertion-afflicted army. Many, though not all, recruits to the SSTA are folk who a few years back, believing the EIS was about to embark on a series of strikes, tore up their dog-tags and joined the SSTA. If an emboldened SSTA gathers an air of militancy, I fear many turncoats will opt to join the NASUWT, the union of choice for those unwilling to forfeit a day’s pay in pursuit of an industrial relations goal.

There is bad blood between the EIS and SSTA, so any move by EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan towards greater collaboration would be rejected by many members. In France, female collaborators had their heads shaved, a fate the follicly-challenged Mr Flanagan need not fear. Being a much smaller association, the SSTA’s McKenzie would be Monty to Flanagan’s Eisenhower, supreme commander-in-chief of allied teaching forces. This would be a shotgun marriage destined for a daytime slot on Jeremy Kyle.

Who do you think you’re kidding, Mr McKenzie if you think you need to have politicians, parents and pupils on the run? I agree that some of the commentary on education news is sensationalist, but for the most part, teachers are not the victims of any more collateral damage than, say, NHS workers. Despite thousands of surgical procedures having successful outcomes, only botched operations are deemed worthy of the attention of our MSPs. However, I am not aware of the BMA or the RCN sounding a call to arms to bash Holyrood detractors. The legal profession is not thought fondly of by most people, yet our legal eagles are not promising Armageddon unless they receive more respect. Instead of initiating a war of words, Mr McKenzie should enter peace talks with education partners.