Hands and hackles raised at landmark EIS gathering
Working week reforms could be met with industrial action, union warns
Scotland’s largest teaching union has warned the Scottish Government and local authorities it will take strike action if they attempt to impose changes that have not been endorsed by teachers in the forthcoming McCormac negotiations.
Time and time again, EIS delegates vehemently rejected the “F-word” - flexibility - as they gathered in the august surroundings of the General Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The union’s first special general meeting (SGM) in a decade was united in its opposition to a series of reforms proposed by the committee led by Professor Gerry McCormac, principal of Stirling University, which issued its report Advancing Professionalism in Teaching in September.
They said no to:
- abolition of two lists of duties - those teachers should do and those they shouldn’t;
- abolition of teachers’ right to do marking and preparation outwith school at a time and place of their own choosing;
- removal of the chartered teacher scheme;
- use of unsupervised external experts in the classroom;
- linkage of teachers’ professional review and personal development with the professional update scheme proposed by the GTCS;
- giving all primary teachers responsibility for the entire length of the pupil week, including the time when they are not in class;
- creation of a promoted post structure devolved to headteachers;
- a flexible timetable for probationer teachers;
- changes to the pattern of the working-week.
Vice-president Susan Quinn fired the opening salvo: “We within the EIS do not accept that the recommendations relating to the working week are based on a considered assessment of the evidence. They are not in the best interest of Scottish education and any attempt to impose them will be resisted by industrial action, if necessary.”
Consistent themes emerged from speakers to 22 motions: they described the report as “managerialist” in tone; said it lacked evidential rigour and was “ambiguous” in its language; and insisted that headteachers should not be handed further powers that would allow them to exercise “patronage”.
Larry Flanagan, education convener, said there had been “some relief that the report was not quite as bad as it might have been”, but that it was sufficiently ambiguous in parts to allow Cosla, the local authorities’ umbrella body, to “come in with its agenda”.
EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith told TESS the unanimity demonstrated by the SGM meant negotiators had been given the go-ahead to be “hard- nosed”.
The first meeting of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers to consider the McCormac report will be held this Wednesday, 23 November, when it is expected to establish a number of working groups.
Education Secretary Michael Russell wants to see implementation of the resultant agreement by August 2012. But the local government elections in May 2012 could prove a distraction for Cosla, and the EIS is likely to argue against a fixed timescale.
WHAT THEY SAID
- Andrew McGeever, Edinburgh: “The sixth-years in my school have the right to sign out and sign back in again. If that shower can be trusted, why not us?”
- Helen Connor, North Lanarkshire: “We have to ensure it is teachers deciding how their time is allocated. We have to be very clear that the people who run our schools are the classroom teachers, depute heads and heads - and everyone should have an equal say and equal part to play.”
- Richard Foote, Glasgow: “If this had been one of my sixth-years doing an Advanced Higher in chemistry, I would have been handing it back to him and asking, ‘Where’s the evidence?’”
- David Drever, Orkney, (on the proposal to introduce unsupervised external experts to the classroom): “This is a Trojan horse with serious implications for Scottish education. It goes to the heart of what is teacher professionalism.”