THE threat of strike action by teachers in Scotland has been condemned by parents’ groups and politicians, who have warned that pupils will lose out at a crucial time in their education.
Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union unanimously backed a ballot for industrial action up to and including strike action in a row over salaries at their annual general meeting last week.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan described the vote as a “line in the sand”, insisting that teachers had been driven to take action after their concerns had been ignored for too long.
Teachers also “overwhelmingly” backed a boycott of work associated with the new Nationals exam, making a clash with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) over exam arrangements seem increasingly likely.
Relations have been fraught in recent weeks between teachers, the Government and the SQA over a reported drop in reading and writing skills revealed in the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy published last month.
There was also a row over the recent Higher Maths exam, which many pupils said was “too hard”. A move to hold a review into the standard of the exam was rejected last week by the Education Secretary, Angela Constance.
Last night Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon voiced concern over the possible strike action and boycott. “We would never advocate industrial action, as it is only the pupils who lose out and little is gained,” she said.” Nonetheless, I do understand the frustration of teachers who have embraced the new qualifications only to find in maths that students read through the questions and panic. There can be no doubt that this dented their confidence for that exam and others.”
She added: “It is very sad that the EIS are considering this action, but I hope that the threat of industrial action will make the Scottish Government and SQA sit up and listen instead of dictating to teachers.”
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said that “the temperature in Scottish education is running very high” at the moment, but that it is only right that there is scrutiny from government on how Curriculum for Excellence – and the associated new qualifications – are working.
She said: “From the perspective of parents there are major issues which the whole system – teachers, schools, local authorities, Education Scotland, SQA and Scottish Government – need to focus on to make sure our children get the maximum benefit from their school education.
“From over-assessment to the equity gap, there are some big ticket items which will need clear thinking and co-operation to make the progress we need for all young people.”
Earlier this year, the EIS put forward proposals for a 5 per cent salary rise for 2015/16, but councils offered a 2.5 per cent rise over two years.
An increased pay offer appears unlikely after council leaders insisted that they had already made their “very best offer” and there was no more money in the pot.
This is set against a backdrop of spiralling workloads resulting in working weeks of almost 50 hours for teachers.
Flanagan reflected on a heated two-day conference in Perth which saw teachers round on both the government over political interference and the SQA over their increasing workloads.
He said: “It’s clear that this conference saw a line being drawn in the sand. For too long teachers have been raising these concerns and for too long they have been ignored.”