Scottish teachers vote in favour of strike action

TEACHERS have backed calls for strike action, amid claims a generation of children has fallen victim to the botched delivery of Scotland’s new school curriculum.

Picture: AP
Picture: AP
Picture: AP

Delegates at the annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) in Perth vowed to “send a message” to education secretary Mike Russell about the increased workload associated with Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

The minister, who is due to speak at the AGM today, is facing growing anger from teachers over the continued roll- out of the curriculum, which was introduced in 2010. Teachers have already backed strike action over changes to their pensions.

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The union, which represents 80 per cent of Scotland’s teachers, backed a motion calling for industrial action over the workload associated with CfE. Delegates claimed teachers were “buckling” under the strain.

Glasgow teacher Richard Foote said: “We have a generation of pupils who, instead of being given the privilege that CfE could have been, have become the victims of government ambition. [The curriculum is] poorly funded, poorly thought-out and poorly resourced.

“If we care about children, I would like to see action rather than nice words. Many of you thought I was being facetious when I likened Curriculum for Excellence to going to Ikea and collecting your box and finding there was just a set of instructions. Turns out I was being overly optimistic. What we have instead is more like Scrapheap Challenge.”

EIS education convener Kay Barnett said it was time to send a “very, very clear message” to Mr Russell.

Proposing a motion calling for more money to help aid the implementation of CfE, she said: “This motion gives a very, very clear message to Mike Russell, [government watchdog] Education Scotland and the SQA [Scottish Qualifications Authority] that they need to continue to work with us to ameliorate the barriers that exist to effective implementation, because that’s the only way we will get this sorted.”

David Thomson, a teacher from Renfrewshire, told the AGM: “Curriculum for Excellence, workload . . . my goodness, we’re all buckling under it.

“This remains one of our main concerns and is causing confusion and stress in the workplace, particularly in secondaries. We were promised curriculum materials for the National 4 and 5 [new exams], but it’s not there, it’s not been delivered.

“Teachers are rightly concerned because we have an excessively growing workload. It’s not fair – we’ve all had enough.”

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Celia Connolly, who proposed the motion calling for industrial action, said: “There is still a lack of confidence in the membership over the delivery of the curriculum. There is still a lack of clear direction and leadership. There is still a lack of consistency across schools and authorities.

“There is real concern over courses, resources, quality assurance procedures and assessment. The result of all of this is a huge increase in the workload of our teachers. CfE is being implemented on the goodwill of teachers.

“It’s time to take action. Our workload campaign must include strike action. Teachers do not take strike action easily. The situation is worse now than the 1980s. We have now the most significant change education has seen in a lifetime taking place in a time of austerity and cuts.”

Mr Russell will today become the first education minister to address the EIS AGM, and he has agreed to take questions from delegates.

Earlier this year, teachers overwhelmingly backed strike action over Westminster-led changes to their pensions, which they said would lead to a real-terms pay cut and leave many in the profession working until they were 68.

Larry Flanagan, EIS general secretary, said the strike threats were not just “sabre-rattling”.

“Workload is an issue, and the pointless nature of some of the bureaucracy around CfE, which doesn’t actually achieve anything,” he said. “That frustration feeds into the fact there has been no wage increase for two years. There’s a strong desire on the part of teachers to take action.”

Despite their anxiety about the impact of CfE on pupils, teachers are unlikely to win support for strike action from parents.

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Iain Ellis, chairman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said: “We appreciate that any change brings challenges. We also appreciate the excellent work that many schools and teachers are doing and have been doing over a number of years now to deliver exciting and innovative opportunities for children and young people through Curriculum for Excellence. Parents are more than willing to support this in whichever ways they can.”

But he added: “We do not believe that threatening strike action is helpful to anyone. We are surprised and disappointed that the EIS has linked Curriculum for Excellence implementation to strike action.”

Eileen Prior, director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: “The feedback we receive from parents is generally that, while they often have sympathy with the issues raised by teachers, they are not supportive of strike action because of the disruption to their children’s and their own lives.

“Parents’ concerns are, of course, heightened at the moment, in relation to the curriculum and the new qualifications: all eyes are on what is happening in school, and parents will be concerned that this proposal for strike action is on the table. We note there had been a commitment made by government about cutting through the excessive paperwork and form-filling being demanded of teachers. It would be reasonable to wait and see what this action looks like and the impact it has, before moving to strike action.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The EIS have raised some very legitimate concerns around teacher workload, and the cabinet secretary has been very clear that unnecessary paperwork around Curriculum for Excellence is unacceptable.

“There are a range of support materials and resources in place to aid teachers with implementation, and Education Scotland inspectors have a clear remit to tackle any bureaucracy which detracts from pupil’s learning experience.

“Workload issues will also be looked at by the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers with a new pay deal also under consideration.”

A spokesman for local authority umbrella organisation Cosla said: “CfE is a flagship policy of the Scottish Government, which councils remain committed to. There is no getting away from the magnitude of the shift that CfE brings about and councils are in regular discussions with both government and the unions.”

Russell faces tough grilling at EIS conference

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EDUCATION secretary Mike Russell will face tough questions from teachers today when he addresses the AGM of Scotland’s largest teaching union.

Mr Russell, who will outline plans to cut red tape in schools and introduce a national wage structure for college staff, is the first politician to address the annual gathering of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS).

He will need to move to head off growing anger from teachers over the increasing workload associated with Curriculum for Excellence.

The minister, whose father was a member of the EIS, will hope to avoid the sort of abuse that saw his English counterpart, Michael Gove, heckled by headteachers during a union conference in Birmingham last month.

Last year, the outgoing president of the EIS used the AGM to accuse Mr Russell of being “sinister” and “threatening”.

Making his final speech as president, Alan Munro said Mr Russell had only “grudgingly” listened to the concerns of teachers over the introduction of the new National Qualifications, which many in the profession had wanted to see delayed for a year.

Mr Munro warned of a period of “industrial strife” to come if more was not done to address teachers’ concerns over changes to their pensions and cuts being made by local councils.

Last month, a poll by another teaching union, the NASUWT, found more than half of teachers had considered quitting in the past year due to “plummeting” levels of job satisfaction and rising stress levels.

‘Pupils left in canteens’ claim from EIS head

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SCHOOL assemblies are being extended and pupils left in the canteen due to the difficulty in finding supply teachers, the head of the Education Institute of Scotland has warned.

Addressing his union’s AGM in Perth yesterday, Larry Flanagan said parents should be concerned by the current “crisis” in finding short-term cover.

Under a deal agreed in 2011, the daily rate paid to supply teachers was halved, leaving many schools unable to find cover.

“The current crisis in supply, short-term supply in particular, is not simply a wages and conditions issue – it is having a direct impact on pupils’ learning,” Mr Flanagan said.

“Parents in particular should be concerned when pupils are having extended assemblies to cover for absent teachers or are being displaced to canteen areas because supply isn’t available.”

Mr Flanagan, who became general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union last year, said it was time for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) to “get real” and seek an agreement to bring an end to the situation.

He said teachers remained concerned at changes to their pensions, their increasing workload and the controversial McCormac report on teacher employment.

Published in 2011 by the Scottish Government, the McCormac report was written by Professor Gerry McCormac, principal of Stirling University.

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Mr Flanagan said a number of the proposals in the report remained “contentious”, including plans to scrap a list of school duties teachers are not currently expected to carry out.

Asked about the issue of supply teachers, a spokesman for Cosla said: “Discussions on supply are ongoing and remain confidential within the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers.”