Hugh Reilly: Holidays loom with morale in doldrums

Last Sunday, I cheered myself up by watching a former pupil, Lauren McTear, perform at Glasgow's T in the Tollcross Park music festival. As I stood spellbound listening to her singing and guitar playing, it struck me that the years she spent missing half of my boring lessons to attend music classes had not been wasted.

Lauren's uplifting songs were quite a contrast to the funereal mood music filling the air at the EIS conference in Perth last week. Morale among the teaching troops heading off for the summer break is depressingly low. Admittedly I'm speculating but I'd hazard a guess that Napoleon's bedraggled soldiers retreating from Moscow displayed more swagger in their step.

Ronnie Smith, the Little Napoleon (or general secretary) of the EIS, spoke of the need for teachers to stand steadfastly together to fight cuts. Unfortunately the profession is splintering and, though denied by the leadership, anecdotal reports suggest there is mass desertion from the country's largest professional association, thanks to the decision to accept the recent pay and conditions deal. In one secondary school, St Maurice's, Cumbernauld, 40 EIS members out of a branch of 68 have cancelled their subscription. If the union is to survive, the EIS salaries and conditions committee cannot afford to win any more negotiating table "victories".

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Teachers believe the councils' umbrella body Cosla possesses an Ed Balls-esque attitude to the nation's educators, ie praising the profession in public while plotting to worsen working conditions, decrease permanent posts and impoverish supply staff. Under the so-called McCrone Agreement - A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, teachers can do class preparation and corrections at a place of their choosing. Most dominies interpret this to mean either their school or at home; I've not yet met a colleague in McDonalds marking assessments and chomping on a Happy Meal.

A recent piece of research found that people were more productive working from home yet local authorities, alarmed by headteachers' concerns of clockwatching chalkies, wish to end this practice. Some councillors would love teachers to punch timecards or insist Sir be chained to his desk. But Cosla's stance on home working is bizarre. Councils have invested heavily in ICT systems that allow remote-access to classroom PCs. This permits teachers to write pupil reports in an environment free of distractions such as cleaners perceiving Sir to be a relationship councillor or janitors popping by to discuss possible signing targets for the Old Firm.

It appears to escape councillors that not for nothing is teaching referred to as the "petticoat profession". Females make up around 90 per cent of primary staff and approximately 55 per cent of secondary staff (the latter figure reflects the increasing gender gap that is occurring due to an increase of female entrants and the number of males leaving teaching).Ending this slightly flexible working arrangement will undoubtedly upset the majority of those who deliver education and could be seen as indirect discrimination.

In its extortion wish-list submitted to the new McCormac review of teacher employment, Cosla proposes teachers spend more time in the classroom, even though the more literate of that umbrella group are already well aware that Scottish pedagogues have more face time with pupils than most of their EU counterparts. Councillors are clearly inspired by the Ryanair business model of a fast turnaround, wanting Sir to lob out one set of learners and quickly replace them with a class load of new pupils.

Cosla appears afflicted by collective memory loss. Contrary to popular belief, the McCrone deal was not one-sided. The profession accepted the flattening of the promoted post structure. Out went senior teacher, assistant principal teacher and, in many schools, a faculty head replaced three or four principal teachers. The much vaunted chartered teacher project has been mothballed, and employment opportunities are rare. If, as I expect, teachers support a boycott of development work linked to A Curriculum for Excellence in the November ballot, Cosla's bum notes will bear much of the blame.