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A meeting of minds

By 30 April 2012No Comments

The recent AGM of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Scotland’s largest teaching union, reflected the dilemmas facing contemporary Scottish education and suggests a stormy year ahead for Scottish schools.
Curriculum for Excellence, introduced by the previous Liberal-Labour Scottish Executive and continued by the SNP Scottish Government has met considerable scepticism, indeed opposition, but has been supported by the EIS.  A bid for a boycott of CfE “until there is adequate funding for its delivery” was overwhelmingly defeated but an amendment, moved by the union’s Council, “to investigate and consider a work to contract” was carried.  At one level this position seeks to bring together two essentially separate perspectives, concern at the work levels in schools and an ambiguous perspective on CfE itself, partly support for the principles, partly doubt about the details and the timescale.  An unsettled teaching workforce will continue to gnaw at this bone in the year ahead.
Curriculum for Excellence has however ceased to be the main focus of concern among Scottish teachers.  The cuts agenda has been looming for the last year but now dominates staff-room discussion.  The EIS has agreed to ballot members on strike action against budget cuts, with a one-day strike and demonstration planned for March 2011.  The Scottish Government is seeking to delay the implementation of cuts to local government to the last minute – at least until after the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections.  Every council in Scotland however is implementing cuts in expenditure.  School closures, cuts in management, administrative and support staff and reductions in schools’ supplies and services budgets are all occurring.  Local authorities are looking to pool resources across councils.  Teachers also fear the possibility of a pay cut in the public sector, or at least a pay freeze.  The EIS voted overwhelmingly for a campaign including industrial action should such a threat become reality.  Whether there is the stomach on the staffroom floor for industrial action is another matter.  The fact that it is even on the agenda however is an augur of the disenchantment among Scottish teachers.
The lack of employment opportunities for NQTs was also discussed by the EIS.  Recent figures show that only 25% of NQTs went on to secure full-time, permanent employment.  This situation is particularly acute in PE where the government increased the quota of PE courses to meet the expected demand as schools moved towards the compulsory 2 hours a week of PE for all students.  The slow pace of that move has meant that hundreds of young PE teachers are failing to secure posts.  The lack of a solid base of young teachers establishing themselves in the profession has robbed Scottish schools of the energetic enthusiasts who might well have made Curriculum for Excellence an earlier reality than is transpiring.  Interestingly however, School Leaders Scotland (the secondary heads’ association), in its submission to the Donaldson review of teacher education, has put a somewhat different slant on the issue of NQTs.  “A number of us view with dismay the poor literacy skills of a number of NQTs in secondary schools.”  SLS goes on to warn of the serious affect on pupils of sub-standard NQTs.
Perhaps the most interesting decisions of the EIS AGM were several at the end of the agenda concerning inspection and quality assurance.  One motion passed committed the EIS to “investigate and report on Quality Assurance demands placed on schools by local authorities in the lead up to HMIE inspections.”  The union also agreed to campaign for an independent review of HMIE and to campaign “against the continuing pejorative reporting and identification of teachers in HMIE reports”.  Again, the cuts have already impacted on this issue with several local authorities making substantial reductions in their internal quality assurance teams but the generalised unhappiness about the nature of the inspection and quality assurance processes remains a powerful current in Scottish schools.
Ronnie Smith, the EIS’s General Secretary, stated that “there is little doubt we are about to enter a very long, dark tunnel which will test our members and our Institute to a degree that few will ever have experienced.”  He laid down a challenge to Scottish local government: “If local government is serious about being a tier of government, rather than local administration, it needs to get up off its knees and start to fight for the communities whose interests they are supposed to represent and the services, the vital public services, they are trusted to provide.”
With Scottish parliamentary elections due in 2011 and local government elections in 2012, what is certain is that educational expenditure and standards will be high on the Scottish political agenda.

The above article was first published in SecEd on 26 August 2012:;type_uid=2

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