Hugh Reilly: Teachers must stem bleedin’ heart act

Mike Russell. Picture: Jane BarlowMike Russell. Picture: Jane Barlow
Mike Russell. Picture: Jane Barlow
LIKE many Victorian market towns posing as cities, Perth’s local economy is dependent on the vital tourist-fleecing sector.

Sadly, due to inclement weather and the global financial crisis, hoteliers operating in Dundee’s overspill have struggled to punt 2 star accommodation at 5 star prices; in bars, publicans have encountered strong consumer-resistance to the concept of £3.50+ pints of lager.

Thankfully, the arrival last week of the EIS caravan for the professional association’s annual jamboree was a welcome boost to the hospitality trade’s coffers. About 300 delegates, flush with EIS drinks kitty money, sorry, daily living expenses, railed against pension changes that will result in teachers being no worse off than any other council employee. It’s an outrage! Teachers will pay an enhanced contribution and be compelled to work until the state retirement age (unless they choose to leave earlier and accept a reduced sum).

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“How can we avoid teachers working till 68, meaning they are worn out and there are fewer jobs for those entering the profession?” lamented union president Susan Quinn. Call me unhelpful, but her argument is rather undercut by anecdotal evidence that, currently, many “burnt-out” staff who retire with hefty lump-sums and generous final salary pensions suddenly rediscover their teaching mojo and dive straight into the supply teaching pool.

Two ex-colleagues, both former principal teachers, are employed on a well-nigh full-time temporary basis. Good luck to them – they aren’t breaking any rules. But, please, could the EIS leadership bleedin’ hearts, for once, just accept the fact that some of the jobs log-jam is directly attributable to the avarice of EIS members?

Those present in the hall expressed synchronised fury that the Scottish Government appears stubbornly unwilling to fill the £35 million black hole arising from Westminster’s reforms to the pensions of teachers. To date, the suggestion box placed by Mike Russell on the doorstep of EIS headquarters regarding where this money to subsidise Sir’s pension should come from has been a tad under-used. When pressed to name which local authority Peter should be robbed to pay Paul the Teacher, the response of the EIS leadership makes the Marcel Marceau Appreciation Society seem like a raucous rave.

Russell’s headline act earned praise from EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan. The education minister listened to the concerns of grassroots teachers and was especially vocal in his wish to decrease the red tape that is hindering implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence.

Ever tactful, he was too polite to mention that a sizeable portion of the education cake is guzzled down by the thousands of teachers on conserved salaries whose promoted posts (and duties, it has to be said) disappeared under the McCrone Agreement. Senior teachers, assistant principals and, due to the creation of faculties, many principal teachers continue to sob at being reduced to the ranks – the extra money paid into their bank accounts each month for not doing the job for which they are being paid must cause untold mental anguish.

I think it would be fair to say that, outside the confines of the Perth venue and school staffrooms, teacher indignation over pensions falls not so much on stony ground, but more on hectares covered with concrete that has been laid on a base of granite aggregate. A strike seems inevitable, but I fear a gay pride march in Yemen would attract greater public support.

Away from the serious business that impacts on the lives of teachers, the AGM gave the oxygen of publicity to the usual outlandish assertions of demented individuals. In the cathedral-like silence of the hall, a tormented soul told delegates that “one in three women has an abortion at some point …it’s important for this reality to be reflected in teaching materials”. At the risk of being labelled a pedant, I’d like to peruse the research on which this statistic is predicated – it certainly doesn’t chime with my knowledge of females circulating in my milieu.

Meanwhile, a recent EIS survey found several dominies claimed to spend more than £1,000. I don’t wish to upset the sensibilities of these clearly philanthropic pedagogues but, personally speaking, I’d file such statements under “Implausible Declarations Made By Teachers”.

Next year, it’s Dundee’s turn to host the EIS circus. Book your hotel room now to avoid disappointment.