Report of the General Secretary

SSTA General Secretary Report to Congress 2023

Friday 12 May 2023

What can happen in a year? Last year I said.

We are on the verge of a new era in Scottish education. The things that we have accepted as normal, if there ever could be anything normal in education, is about to change. But we must learn from the past and not make the same mistakes again.

As you all know, the Government embarked on a new direction for education. The various OECD reports, the International Panel of Experts reports, the Muir Education Review and the Reforming Qualifications and Assessment Review being conducted by Professor Louise Hayward that is due be completed at the end of the month.

Unfortunately, the track record of the Government on some of these reviews is to ignore the teacher trade union voice. The Scottish Government has relied on the view of the ‘establishment’ who ‘know best’ to make policy decisions. Speaking to a few selected teachers is not the voice of the profession. They have no mandate but are only speaking on behalf of themselves. They don’t represent the profession and are not accountable to the profession, and most importantly they do not represent the views of SSTA members.

The SSTA is the only voice of Scottish secondary teachers and must be seen as partner in Scottish education. Government and others must not by-pass the SSTA this time or the same mistakes will be made again.

I hope with the new Cabinet Secretary Jenny Gilruth, who was a teacher, that there is new dawn, and the teacher voice comes front and centre. The SSTA is ready to work in partnership with the Scottish Government to bring about the changes that the Scottish education system needs to develop and thrive.

National Qualifications

The SSTA has challenged the SQA’s plan to revert to the national qualification pre-pandemic requirements in 2024 on two fundamental grounds. The pupils are not ready and most importantly the teachers are not ready. Schools are still addressing education recovery; pupils moving into the senior phase are not in the place they need to be if they are to meet their true potential. This together with the proposals in the Hayward Review will fundamentally change the assessment and qualification system in the very near future, is a ‘foolhardy’ step by SQA and further unnecessary source of teacher workload. The SSTA Education Committee went to members to seek their views.

A member said in response in the SSTA survey.

 “I have not spoken to anyone who is in favour of this. Many of us completed the consultative surveys from the SQA and it appears we, the teachers’ voice, have been completely ignored. It is more likely that there will be a detrimental impact, on pupil stress and teacher workload, by bringing them back.” 

To reintroduce pre-pandemic exam arrangements in 2024 when teachers say that only 12% of pupils are ready is a stubborn and self-interest move by an organisation that is oblivious of the realities in secondary schools.

“The damage to pupils’ learning and the task for teachers in trying to bridge the gap cannot be underestimated, and the SQA must think again. Members are concerned about the wellbeing of their pupils and the immeasurable workload demands on a profession that is already ‘on its knees’. The SQA needs to listen to the teachers who are in schools everyday trying to support pupils and deliver the national qualifications. I challenge the SQA to engage with the profession and consider the findings of the SSTA survey. 2,124 secondary teachers, SSTA members cannot all be wrong.

The largest resistance to the SQA proposals came from teachers delivering higher qualification with up to 91% in some subjects. 

Modern Studies91%
Art and Design85%
Modern Foreign Languages85%
Religious Moral Education79%
Home Economics69%
Technological Education64%
Physical Education59%
Computing Science56%
Business Education44%

71% of teachers said that their pupils would need a lot or a great deal of support to be able to meet the requirements of the pre-pandemic arrangements. In addition, 76% said that increase in teacher workload would go up a lot or a great deal. This is a situation that cannot be ignored, and I hope the Scottish Government will intervene and protect our pupils who already struggling and teachers that have no capacity to meet these imposed changes.

The Hayward Review

The SSTA raised major concerns over the progress of the Hayward Review and the lack of engagement of teachers in secondary schools. No time had been allocated in schools for teachers to consider the report so they were denied the opportunity to consider the proposals. The review did not tap into teachers’ deep breadth and knowledge as a result.

The main proposals

  • an end to high stake exams at S4, S5 and S6 
  • an end to S4 exams for students who will continue with a subject beyond that year
  • subject and curricular courses in the senior phase of secondary school would typically last for two years
  • most students would accumulate credits throughout the two-year programme and take an external exam at the end of the second year.
  • a ‘Scottish Diploma of Achievement’ to include a full range of achievements – not just academic qualifications

Professor Hayward said
“This approach would lead to a better balance between external assessment, including examinations, and other ways of gathering evidence across the senior phase. We know that adding more to the workload of teachers and others is not sustainable and feel that decisions must be taken to identify what teachers stop doing to allow space for new practices to evolve”.

The SSTA fears that the review will have unintended consequences for teachers, pupils, and schools.  We anticipate that teachers will be left to ‘pick-up the pieces’ and this will add to the pressures and workload that they already experience. The Scottish Diploma of Achievement is “primarily intended to allow evidence of learner achievements to be gathered in a broader range of areas than is currently the case”.

I fear the complicated teachers labour intensive moderation and verification processes will only add teacher workload. We can all remember the pressure and stresses of the Alternative Certification Model created by the SQA only a few years ago. I believe we need to be ready to give a trade union response and say ‘enough is enough’.

Pupil Behaviour

A survey was designed by the SSTA ASN and Education Committees in a response to the deteriorating situation in schools. The survey had a fantastic 2,478 responses.

The survey identified the types of behaviours that are reducing teaching time for all pupils up to 10% in S1 and up to 20% in S2 and S3.

These are the same cohort of pupils you are preparing for qualifications next session. You will recognise the behaviours and the results will not be a surprise. I am sure they will be a surprise to parents and those in Council offices.

Defiance including refusal to work (84%)

Mobile devise misuse (71%),

Disrespect (63%),

Wandering in class and in the corridors (51%),

Interruption in lessons (43%).

Abusive language 37%

Late to class 32%

Grandstanding (clowning) 30%

Verbal aggression 25%

75% of members stated that they had experienced verbal aggression and one in eight members reported physical aggression. But only 9% reported all incidents and 13% some incidents. What of 79% (3 out of 4) who did not report the incidents. 25% said there was a lack of time, 8% discouraged, 18% didn’t know how.

This can probably be explained that nearly half 47% of pupil’s were returned to class before the matter was resolved. Together with only 31% of members felt supported when experiencing poor pupil behaviour.

A member said.

“I have often asked pupils why they behave as they do and the response is always, "because I can!”

Under Reporting of Poor Pupil Behaviour 

The SSTA survey emphasised the high level of incidents in schools that are not being reported. There is a denial culture in the system that fails to acknowledge how serious the situation is in schools. Teachers are suffering and there appears to be little support to address the problem. Pressure is exerted on schools and local authorities to push the numbers down for fear of reputational damage. Many teachers see little point in reporting incidents as no action will be taken. They are often blamed for causing the incident, this is leaving teachers feeling unsupported and is perceived as a measure taken by management to avoid dealing with the pupil. Some teachers are fearful of making reports as they do not want to be seen as the cause of the problem. The SSTA has stated that the employers and the Scottish Government need to acknowledge there is a problem.  If they take ownership of this, poor behaviour can be tackled.

This survey has provided clear evidence of an aggression epidemic sweeping through our schools which has left many teachers feeling unsafe at work and unsupported by employers who have a legal duty to ensure their health and safety.

No teacher should have to go to work worried in case they will be a victim of verbal aggression or even assault that day. School managements must ensure that appropriate actions are taken in response to violence and verbal aggression against staff, including properly risk assessing pupils with a propensity for violent outbursts before any decision is taken to return those pupils to their classes.

Teacher Retention and Recruitment

It cannot be underestimated the importance of teachers’ pay in the battle to retain and recruit teachers in Scotland. The performance of COSLA who represent the employers in delaying for more than a year to reach an agreement in 2021 was inexcusable but to do it again in 2022 is at least disrespectful and a worse vicious. COSLA’s performance during the pay dispute was not one of an employer who respects its employees. It seemed to be an organisation content to see schools closed, pupils miss education and quite happy to bank teachers’ money for taking strike action.

This was seen again in those councils that were not prepared to act and ensure teacher back pay was paid as soon as possible when a pay deal was done. There must be serious consideration for the role COSLA plays at the negotiating table.

I cannot commend enough the leadership and commitment of the SSTA Salaries and Executive Committees for steering the association through a very challenging pay dispute. And, of course, the thousands of members who took industrial action, many for the very first time, in support of our pay claim and achieved a good outcome.

A good pay deal was achieved but it should have been achieved without the need for strike action. Teachers did not want to be on strike but had no option when the employer was unprepared to negotiate. It was to our disadvantage that many parents and members of the public supported the teachers and were not knocking down the doors of the politicians.

Teacher Health and Wellbeing

With teacher pay resolved for this year, notwithstanding the pressures of poor pupil behaviour, teacher workload must be brought under control. A failure to address teacher workload or more fittingly guarding teacher health and wellbeing that will have a detriment impact upon the retention and recruitment of teachers.

I have said before why not ‘pull out all the stops’ to encourage teachers to stay? This could be achieved by paying teachers properly, providing a ‘real’ career structure, valuing teacher’s professional judgment, reducing workload, and giving teachers ‘real’ support with the appropriate educational professionals in meeting the challenges that pupils bring into schools.

A common theme is the expectation of teachers is that they need to do far more than what appears within their job description. Is it any wonder many of our members are reluctant to undertake management roles where they exist, and probably these are the exact people who know their limitations, what is possible and what is not, that should be encouraged into these positions.

Teachers are crying out for a career pathway that recognises curricular specialism, that runs in parallel with the existing leadership/management routes.

The ever-increasing demands by Government, Education Scotland, Inspectors, SQA and local authorities, is taking away the little joy left in teaching, with teachers walking away disheartened and broken. Not just at the end of their careers but many in mid-career with some much more to offer.

Teachers are demoralised by the never-ending and increasing teacher workload. More new initiatives, more tracking and monitoring, more record keeping, more personalised learning plans, more accountability for every move and every decision a teacher makes, and of course a national qualification system that appears to go out of its way to dream up new ways to increase teacher bureaucracy.

Excessive workload demands over several years has been adding pressure and stress upon teachers. This is unsustainable and is damaging teachers’ health. The SSTA demands a plan to address the sources of the excessive demands on teacher time. Teachers need time and space to do their job and there is very little of that about. It is always worth reminding our members that all teachers including Head Teachers, have a maximum 35-hour week contract. 

Teachers must be prepared to fight to take back control of their workload. Agree sensible and properly accounted for Working Time Agreements that recognise the professional judgment of the teacher and gives strength to our members to say NO.

Teachers must be allowed to make decisions on what is a priority, what is appropriate to prepare for lessons, the how they structure lessons, the method of assessment, and be trusted to present pupils for national qualifications without the excessive scrutiny of outside agencies.

We must put the professionalism of the teacher, the importance of teaching and learning at the front on our agenda, remember how you were treated during the pay dispute and end this culture of we can do everything and put a stop to



Presidential Address to 78th Annual Congress

Catherine Nicol, SSTA President

Address to the 78th Congress of the SSTA

The Trade union movement is still a force to be reckoned with.

Trade union members need to be alert to the neoliberal forces in the press, political sphere and social media that strive to create division in our ranks. There is no room for unilateral and partisan action if we are to achieve our shared aims. Holding the line when others seek to break it down is crucial. When those ranked against us succeed in causing division, they take delight in conflict between grassroots members. When our opponents gain the upper hand, this causes misplaced anger and argument between those at the heart of our collective movement. Energy that should be directed into the mission is deflected, purpose is lost, resolution is delayed, and solidarity becomes the victim.

Over the years we have learned that members must be mobilised if we are to achieve our aims and that swift communication and seamless co-ordination is essential. We know that good organisation is necessary and that this is achieved through clear and concise messaging. We recognise that the people that we are fighting for are our strongest asset. We understand that backing each other to the hilt in the fight for the common cause is vital.

Every member of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association who cast a vote in indicative surveys and formal ballots demonstrated that Secondary Teachers are willing and able to engage in action.  Today I want to pay tribute to District Secretaries, School Representatives and grassroots members who facilitated and took part in our successful industrial action. The Office Bearers, members of the Salaries and Conditions of Service and Executive Committees deserve high praise. All of you stepped up to the mark whenever the call came: you persevered despite a punishing schedule. You listened to the membership throughout and had the courage to make decisions that others shied away from. Accolades also go to the SSTA Secretariat and Office staff who worked relentlessly to ensure our members were kept informed and supported during the pay campaign. Our General Secretary stood at the helm throughout and steered a course through the dark pools & treacherous waters during negotiations. The pay agreement was reached after extensive wrangling between all sides of the SNCT and the final resolution was achieved -in no small part- due to the considerable negotiating prowess of the SSTA’s Commander in Chief.

In March, the Teachers Side of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers voted for acceptance of a pay settlement brokered by the government and offered by employers. This offer came after a war of attrition between all three sides, it was decent but make no mistake it only goes part of the way to restoring our incomes to the level required to remunerate dedicated professionals.   A majority of members of the SSTA concluded the deal agreed was adequate given current circumstances.

Insult was added to injury when a few employers delayed making good on the back pay due. What a disgraceful way to treat professionals who had been so recently lauded and applauded. Some Local Authorities, a shout out for North Ayrshire, honoured their commitments and demonstrated that the teachers they employ are valued and trusted professionals. They ensured payment due was received in whole by the end of March. One rule for some of the 32 and another rule for others. COSLA need to get their act together if they are to remain part of the negotiating mechanism that determines teachers’ pay and conditions. They keep giving us reasons to chuck them out of the way!

Our dispute has come to an end but colleagues in Northern Ireland fight on. Members of the Northern Ireland Teachers Council, which includes the UTU, INTO, NEU, NASUWT and NAHT are working together in a joint effort to demand better for education and educators. They have unified in action to achieve a fair pay award. Today I send a message of solidarity from the SSTA.

The struggle continues in England too. I was heartened to see the leaders of all 4 teacher unions sit down together to announce that they will co-ordinate action in their fight to obtain a fair pay deal. This happened on the anniversary of the day in 1789 that Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against the infamous Captain William Bligh on the Bounty; and hopefully the UK governments intransigent attitude will take a walk off the plank.

Members of other public sector unions are prepared to take action to obtain decent pay for a fair day’s work; as did we. Their members are willing to stand with colleagues during days of National strike action: as did we. We stand with you and beside you in spirit and cheer you on. Today, I send a message of fellowship to all sister unions still engaged in battle.

The SSTA hope that sense prevails, that the public purse is opened and that sister unions campaigns bring about pay awards that recognise the essential work that you do; all your members deserve better. Have no doubt, the general public and parents who benefit from the work that we do to deliver high quality public services are on your side. Everyone here wishes you well!

While our attention has been focused on the pay dispute the reconfiguring of the education landscape has moved on at pace. Education reform has spawned a variety of reviews and consultations. A rapid response from the SSTA was required. We adopted digital forms of communication to connect with SSTA members in this fast moving and ever-changing environment. The SSTA is grateful to all members who took the time to read our frequent updates thoroughly, contributed to surveys or contacted the office to share their views. The information you have provided the SSTA leadership team has been invaluable during social dialogue with national and global partners.

Members responses have created a rich source of evidence that committees and Office Bearers have drawn on. The data you provided has determined the SSTA position in negotiations, consultative groups and discussions with national education bodies.  Knowing your perspectives on teaching in the secondary sector has enabled us to speak with authority on behalf of Secondary Teachers at conferences organised by Education International. You have enabled your representatives to provide advice for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which will influence their research and resultant education policy. You have helped the SSTA to build partnerships and foster good relationships with trade unionists around the world. You are invested in education, your views matter. You can rest assured that everyone that sits at the table during Congress does everything in their power to ensure the voice of secondary teachers is heard wherever and whenever the opportunity arises.

You may be asking yourself why all of that is important! Why must this be stated?

Last year we heard much of visions and grand plans. Announcements were made about the whole sale restructuring of the education system. Education Scotland were to be transformed. The Inspectorate were to morph and the SQA was to be no more by 2024.  So, what happens next Cabinet Secretary? Secondary School teachers need to know where we are heading.

The Hayward Review presented us with the best opportunity we have had in a generation to create an assessment structure that truly captures the knowledge base and aptitudes of all learners.  The review seeks a reimagining of the type and range of qualifications that learners could achieve.

A wide-ranging consultation has taken place, but this has involved many stakeholders. Professor Hayward envisaged that every secondary teacher in the land would participate in some way.  However, this hope was not realised. Largely, since teachers were not given the time to access and digest the materials or respond to surveys during In-Service days. This grave mistake was highlighted by the SSTA, and the lack lustre response of employers led us to provide all our members with a direct link to the review web pages. It is essential that Secondary Teachers are not just heard, we must be listened to. Policy makers and decision-making bodies must be made to realise the implications of their latest Visions, Values and Proposals. The reality of working in Secondary Education seem to be wilfully misunderstood. Alterations to existing assessment conditions for National Qualifications is necessary but alterations must be introduced gradually. Skilful persuasion is required to make the architects of change alter their course. We all know it is better to divert the missile before it obliterates the target.  Members of the Education Committee and Office Bearers have advocated for the inclusion of approaches to assessment that you have called for, many to not want to stray from the path that they are sure of.  We have contributed to the teacher trade union response to proposals being made. I note with great interest that in Ireland ASTI and the TUI are pushing back against moves to reduce the weighting given to terminal examinations for the leavers certificate in favour of more extensive internal assessment. Just as this is being proposed as a suitable model for Scotland. It seems the Education ministers of our nations do have time to work collegiately!

The report is soon to be published. Fundamental changes to the assessment and qualifications system could be on their way. Despite our input there is still a danger that the report will be based on thin understanding of what can be done in schools. We will soon know if the recommendations are realistic and if they will gain traction. After all it may not come to pass, the government and employers keep telling us they have nae money!

The SSTA and its members must be fully involved in the establishment of any new assessment & qualifications regime. We need to be persistent in our call for some aspects of the planning and implementation process to be mandatory. We must insist on measures that will control workload.  It must be possible to teach coursework and do all assessments within the time available. Aspects of the wider curriculum must also be considered. Assessment of any subject must not require teachers to work beyond a 35hr working week. All tests must be of a high standard, of sufficient range and pre verified. Assessment deadlines and calls for predictions of pupil attainment need to be aligned with the completion of all coursework.  The use of algorithms to alter grade boundaries in exams should be abandoned.

Educators at all levels in the system are working in a fog and in this sea of uncertainty we are left clinging to the things that we know will float.

To avoid mistakes made in the past; we insist that a troubleshooting process needs to be completed before any new assessment and certification model goes live. Secondary school practitioners need at least one calendar year to prepare before full implementation. Respected professionals and the learners we teach deserve nothing less.

The impact of the pandemic is still keenly felt by many.

Some are living in dire straits, teachers included. Education services are focusing budgets on methods of supporting learners and their families. Many of you mitigate the effect of the cost-of-living crisis on learners. Running breakfast clubs for youngsters that are sitting exams. Making sure that kids have the bus fare to get into school. Organising collections for food banks and gathering second-hand clothing. Going as far as making sure pupils have clean uniforms. Providing pencils, rubbers, glue, paper, and other scholastic essentials.

Austerity has reached the classroom. A make do and mend culture has set in. Many of us are exhorted to find sources of grant funding to maintain basic provisions. We do not have enough for jotters, never mind chemicals or the equipment necessary to deliver rich experiences and joyful lessons.

The fact that we are being asked to do more with much less is ignored. How many of us have dipped into our own pockets to subsidise the department budget? How many of us are purchasing resources needed to make lessons more engaging or buying materials that pupils need to create an assessment piece? You should stop that you know, this is what the SAC and PEF funds are for. You did not get a pay rise so you can subsidise the department budget, diminished as it is. Some of you feel like the world rests on your shoulders, you go beyond your remit to support learners but stop and think: who is looking after you?

And now, the elephant in the room.

 We are living in the aftermath of a global pandemic, but the crisis does not confine itself to school and personal finances. Educators in secondary schools have been hit by a tidal wave of distressed behaviours.

Many of us feel that teaching and learning is now subordinate to managing disruption. Agents of disorder ruin lessons. Pupils refuse point blank to engage in even the simplest of tasks. Some refuse to sit in their allocated seat. Explanations are interrupted by demands for attention. A critical mass of class members are downright rude to staff and each other. Disrespect and selfishness are the order of the day. At worst mob rule prevails in classrooms and corridors. In many schools’ teachers are faced with torrents of verbal abuse during lessons. The number of violent incidents reported is increasing. A culture of accommodating the needs of the transgressor has become the default position in some places. Learners that do come to school to learn do not feel secure. There is an increasing sense that classrooms are not safe learning spaces for staff or pupils.

This was never the intention of law or policy makers; this is the result of misinterpretation of their instruments and lack of funding. There are many reasons why children make poor choices, there is a wide range of circumstances that affect each person’s ability to regulate their behaviour. However, the school is a community, and each classroom is a micro community within it, and we must find better ways of helping children to accept the norms required for good teaching and learning. We need more staff; we need more resources. Increased levels of funding are required to put measures in place to fully support the needs of all learners and their teachers. Secondary teachers seek to develop learners’ capability to develop their subject knowledge and create a safe environment where learning can take place. Demonstrating how learners can take part in lessons in a manner that is productive is integral to our mission. Teaching learners how to behave and respect their peers and the staff is also critical to building a safe environment for everyone- including teachers and support staff.

The OECD are suggesting that governments ensure that people are taught to swim, but I do not think this was the high tide of which they were thinking. If we do not act now Good Ship Education will sink: many teachers are already heading for the lifeboats!


The morale of teachers has never have been at such a low ebb.

The entire system is in a state of flux and uncertainty reigns.

Scottish Secondary teachers and colleagues in other sectors must march onwards to ensure that the health and wellbeing of teachers is not wounded more severely than it already is. We must refocus our effort on our campaigns to reduce class contact time and class sizes. We must jettison causes of workload that make our working lives intolerable. We must intensify our effort to improve and extend support structures available to teachers. We must insist on the introduction of measures that actively reduce the causes of work-related ill health & stress. The Teachers Side of the Scottish Negotiating Committee, our Association, and colleagues in the EIS, NASUWT, AHDH, SLS and Community will join forces once again to defend, improve and secure the conditions of service of all teachers working in the Scottish Education system.

Collective action is at its most powerful when we support each other. In future we must maintain a unified front if we are to succeed.

Now more than ever you need to know that your union will support you. We will continue to listen to you and advocate for you.

 Your union puts your needs first, we are here to insist on better conditions for you.

The SSTA is invested in Secondary Teachers!

Teachers are invested in Secondary Education!

Thank you for hearing what I have to say!

SS Congress crop

Report of the General Secretary

SSTA General Secretary, Seamus Searson

SSTA General Secretary Report to Congress 2022

Friday 13 May 2022

Dear Colleagues, it is a great pleasure to stand before you and see so many familiar faces and so many new faces in the room as we try to return to a normal SSTA Congress. Unfortunately, I unable to see the 20 plus delegates who are joining us virtually today. I would also like to welcome the large number of members, guests and observers who are joining us online today. I believe the way we organise Congress has changed and will not be the same again.

I would like to thank the Crieff Hydro for accommodating us again and a big thank you to Tapestry for providing all the technology to enable such an event to be carried here in Crieff and some many other places all at the same time.

I must thank the SSTA Head Office Staff Andrew, Laura and Clare who have been busy for months making all the arrangements for Congress and ensuring that we all have a brilliant event. This Congress just highlights the commitment and enthusiasm of SSTA members across the country.

I can’t stop there as I must mention members of the secretariat Assistant General Secretaries Fiona, Iain and Euan and Catherine or Professional Officer who done an amazing job supporting members throughout the pandemic.

The pandemic created a scenario that none of us could have expected. Secondary teachers went beyond all expectations to deliver national qualifications despite all the hurdles, to ensure our young people did not lose out. Secondary teachers kept education on track and did their best to keep teaching and learning taking place and give some stability to all our young people.

Last October I said that the 1000s of Scottish secondary teachers were a credit to the teaching profession. I applauded the professionalism and determination of teachers to succeed in such difficult and dangerous circumstances in the service of our young people.

You played your part in delivering education when the schools were closed, keeping the schools open and allowing society and the economy to return to some form of normality.

Today we are on the verge of a new era in Scottish education. The things that we have accepted as normal, if there ever could be anything normal in education, is about to change. But we must learn from the past and not make the same mistakes again.

As you all know, the Government is embarking on a new direction for education. The various OECD reports, the International Panel of Experts reports, the recent Professor Ken Muir Education Reform report and the forthcoming Reforming Qualifications and Assessment Review being conducted by Professor Louise Hayward that is due by the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the track record of the Government on some of these reviews is to ignore the teacher trade union voice. It often appears that the Scottish Government that the teachers voice is a selected few individuals, that have no mandate but are speaking on behalf of teachers. This is merely a tick box exercise like most consultations. They don’t represent the profession and are not accountable to the profession, and most importantly they do not represent the SSTA.

Parents, community groups, businesses, the GTCS, the SQA, education officers, politicians and others could be called stakeholders in education. I am not however convinced that pupils are stakeholders, or consumers, or customers or something else.

But one thing I do know is that teacher trade unions are not stakeholders. Teacher unions are Partners in education. Teacher unions represent its members, are the voice of its members, and most importantly is accountable to its members.

Government and others must not by-pass teacher unions this time or the same mistakes will be made.

It was well documented during the pandemic the admiration teachers received particularly from the parents who struggled with ‘home schooling’ when the schools were closed. I said I was hopefully this admiration would be more than just words but a real reward for the efforts of teachers not only during the pandemic but every day in every school in Scotland.

In 2019 I talked about teachers’ pay, teachers’ career progression and teacher workload. And they are, I am sad to say, still the same issues today for all teachers in Scotland.

It cannot be underestimated the importance of teachers’ pay in the battle to retain and recruit teachers in Scotland. The performance of COSLA who represent the employers in delaying for more than a year to reach an agreement with the teacher unions for pay due on the 1 April 2021 is in excusable. What was finally offered in March 2022 could have been offered a year before when inflation was below 2%.

In the previous pay deal, there was a focus on increasing the pay of newly qualified teachers and the pay scale was reduced to 5 points and an enhanced starting salary. This was a recruitment measure and there was an understanding that the issue of retention was to be addressed in 2021. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

The SSTA has repeatedly argued that retention must be the priority and keeping the teachers we have. It makes no sense not to value the experienced teachers and any attempt to focus on recruitment alone would miss the point.

The SSTA is serious about a restorative pay deal that acknowledges and rewards those teachers who have served their time and give so much. Teachers at the top of the pay scale and those in management positions need to see a major change in salary levels.

The SNCT pay claim for April 2022 is 10%, it should be probably more considering the increases in the cost of living and the additional national insurance contributions.

I have said before why not ‘pull out all the stops’ to encourage teachers to stay? This could be achieved by paying teachers properly, providing a ‘real’ career structure, valuing teacher’s professional judgment, reducing workload, and giving teachers ‘real’ support with the appropriate educational professionals in meeting the challenges that pupils bring into schools.

Unfortunately, all these things are lacking. The career structure is diminishing with management positions with increasing workload demands dwindling away. In our recent management survey, many members reported having low amounts of management time with 20% reporting that they received no management time at all.

A common theme is the expectation that they need to do far more than what appeared within their job description. Many of our members said that most of their time had been taken-up taking cover or ‘fire-fighting’ rather than any of their main management responsibilities. Is it any wonder many of our members are reluctant to undertake such roles and probably in truth these are the exact people who know their limitations, what is possible and what is not, that should be encouraged in to these positions.

It does not take a genius to work out that if you reduce the number of people in management positions in schools the bigger their jobs become. Together with the ever-increasing demands by Government, Education Scotland, SQA and local authorities, the bigger the jobs become and the more unmanageable and the more stressed the post holders become.

The Teacher Career Pathways Review offered so much to further the career aspirations for teachers but has ended up sitting on a shelf gathering dust. The many months and countless hours of people’s time taken to develop the report has stumbled on the doorstep of COSLA. Only one element has resulted in an SNCT agreement. In August 2021 ‘Lead Teacher’ can into existence but to date not one single teacher has been appointed or is likely to be in the near future. The only other outcome has been the development of a self-funded secondment that sounds just like a career break. Another opportunity for retaining teachers has been lost.

The school-based Lead Teacher will remain a classroom teacher and should not be regarded as part of the school’s management structure. Lead Teachers would function alongside and complement the existing leadership roles, structures and posts, bringing clear additionality to the system through supporting the professional learning of colleagues. Lead teachers offer salaries starting at £47,000 up to £67,000 what a boost that would be for the profession and an acknowledgement of the importance of the classroom teacher.

Teachers are crying out for career pathway that recognises curricular specialism, pedagogical and policy specialism that runs in parallel with the existing leadership/management routes. The review will only benefit the profession if it allows all teachers to be valued and respected for their knowledge, skills and experiences.

Teachers are demoralised by the never-ending and increasing teacher workload. More new initiatives, more tracking and monitoring, more record keeping, more personalised learning plans, more accountability for every move and every decision a teacher makes, and of course a national qualification system that appears to go out of its way to dream up new ways to increase teacher bureaucracy.

This unfortunately, highlights how little teacher professional judgement is valued and the lack of trust shown by many in senior positions in the world of education.

But none if this would be necessary if schools, local authorities and Government would trust teachers’ professional judgement in placing pupils in the correct course, allowed a common course for all Nat 4 and Nat 5 pupils so that all pupils in the class could all be taught together. This would cut teacher and pupil workload at a stroke. 

The Government must mean what is says and put pupils at the centre, allow teachers to teach, put appropriate assessment in place for all pupils at all levels across the secondary school. As more and more pupils are staying in education it is time for a review of the Curriculum and National Qualifications. This is not an opportunity to start all over, but to talk to teachers (the unions who represent and speak for teachers) but identify what works, what is appropriate and put a plan together for implementation.

It is time for teachers to take back control of their workload. Agree sensible and properly accounted for Working Time Agreements that recognise the professional judgment of the teacher.

The teacher must be allowed to make decisions on what is a priority, what is appropriate to prepare for lessons, the how and the structure of the lesson, the method of assessment, and be trusted to present pupils for national qualifications.

The SNCT claim 10% pay increase is for all grades. This 10% claim must be the next step in a restorative pay claim. The Government needed to support and value its teachers by making a major effort to restore teacher pay levels.

The British and Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU) have resolved to support all teachers across these islands to achieve a salary that reflects their professionalism and equally address the excessive workload that has become the norm in all of our jurisdictions.

I call upon all the teacher unions across these islands to work together in every school to ensure that teachers are paid properly and that drastic reductions in teacher workload is achieved. This joint movement has already begun and the first battle is our 10% for all teachers at all grades.


Presidential Address - 77th Annual Congress

Catherine Nicol, SSTA President

Address to the 77th Congress of the SSTA

In October 2021 we were all aware that the Pandemic was not yet over. At that time news of the Omicron variant was emergent but the impact it would have on society was as yet unknown.  It was abundantly clear that the measures that teachers had called for to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our colleagues, our families and friends, pupils, care givers and other service users must remain in place inside educational establishments. Trade Unions remained steadfast and ensured the continuance of mitigations to protect workers from harm. Other voices advocated for reduction and even removal of these mitigations thus demonstrating a shameful lack of recognition of the risks being taken by teachers and fellow public sector employees. The entire Education community pulled together and many employed in the sector left the safety of their homes every working day to ensure continuity of education for the young people of Scotland. There was a palpable sense of trepidation in schools. We all remained optimistic that the hand cleaning, one way systems, face coverings, increased ventilation and carbon dioxide monitors would decrease the likelihood of serious infection. We hoped that the most vulnerable, would be protected as staff and youngsters waited their turn to get the next dose of the vaccine.

As the Christmas break approached the impact of this highly contagious variant was all too apparent.  Infection rates increased massively and staff and pupil absences rose sharply. Whole classes and entire year groups had to be sent home, insufficient numbers of staff were present to teach all classes. The SSTA recognised that this would have a detrimental impact on the health and well- being of members and on teaching, learning and assessment in schools. The union consulted members and as a consequence advocated strongly for school closures and a return to remote learning. This fell on deaf ears as the rhetoric for keeping schools open to maintain pupil engagement and health and wellbeing got louder. The work undertaken earlier in the pandemic by secondary teachers and other practitioners to upskill and use digital technology for teaching looked to go unheeded. Our determination to prepare high quality learning resources for all young people seemed to be disregarded. The cost and effort that had been incurred to equip secondary teachers with resources to deliver lessons using technology appeared to be overlooked.

In early 2022 it became evident that levels of pupil and staff absence in schools had reached critical levels.  Members were reporting timetables were becoming unsustainable and disruption to teaching and learning was the inevitable result. The availability of Supply Teachers was extremely limited. Head Teachers, Deputy Heads and Principle Teachers had time normally earmarked for management and organisation revoked so classes could be covered. Teachers were in front of classes for the maximum number of hours allowable in any given week, redeployment of staff that normally worked in additional support roles became necessary so that pupils could be taught. Classes were sent to Assembly Halls on rotation, pupils were sent home to isolate in large numbers, sometimes entire year groups were sent home because of staffing shortages.  Teachers struggled on however an expectation that they could simultaneously deliver lessons to pupils that were in school and provide for those who were working from home became prevalent. The workload of those who remained in school rocketed.  Pupil, Parent and Teacher anxiety about missing course work and internal assessment increased, worry about producing evidence of attainment escalated. Pupils’ capability to prepare fully for examinations became more uncertain. The pressure over the past two years has been relentless, in the past six months more acute than ever. This has taken a heavy toll on the mental and physical well-being of many teachers and pupils. Where schools and Directorates worked with Trade Union representatives the scrutiny and improvement agenda was paused to reduce workload and alleviate stress.  Unbelievably this was not the case across the board. In some places mitigations to workload were not enacted revealing a shocking disregard by some employers for the health and wellbeing of teachers and staff fulfilling supporting roles.

In response to members concerns the SSTA gathered information about members’ experience of working in schools. This has resulted in actions such as our call for the suspension of the examination diet however this was rejected. The SSTA challenged the SQA to provide greater support for teachers and pupils, this was answered however the guidance and resources that were produced were heavily criticised by teachers, pupils and parents. The SSTA maintained that Education Scotland should suspend school Inspections and provide more resources to support teachers’ health and wellbeing, this message was taken on board. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills was made aware of the concerns that SSTA members had about workload, working conditions and deteriorating behaviour in schools. We trust that the viewpoints expressed on behalf of members influenced decisions concerning the future direction of the Education system.

The Curriculum for Excellence has been in a continual state of flux since its inception. Education Scotland list eight Policy Drivers that have a direct impact on the Secondary Education sector. A complex web of Implementation Plans, Frameworks, and Delivery Plans underlie them.  An unintended consequence of the multi-layered policy environment has led to multiple interpretations and confusion in the system.  This has led to teachers being confined to highly prescriptive structural frameworks for lesson planning and being told what they must include in lessons. Some common examples:, conversations with pupils that adhere to specific narratives, a need to focus on particular type of attribute or skill , strict adherence to ideological constructs, references to employment or obvious demonstration of aspects of the inclusion agenda. In some schools this may be happening in a series of lessons across the term, or as part of an interdisciplinary learning or themed projects but in others teachers are expected to incorporate all of this into each and every lesson taught in the Broad General Education and Senior Phase.

 Monitoring and recording methods used to provide evidence that teachers are compliant with policy have imposed additional burdens on classroom teachers. A moratorium on Lesson Observations, Lesson Studies, Learning Rounds and the like was in place during the pandemic due to the need to lessen the risk of transmission. The efficacy and suitability of such methods for demonstrating improvement in Education is subject to debate. Currently a drive to reintroduce these measures in schools is taking place:  at a time when teachers have little capacity to absorb the additional pressure and could do with some breathing space.   The manner in which these types of supervision are conducted is crucial, all too often they only serve to feed the accountability culture; demonstrate a lack of trust in teacher professionalism and drive down teacher’s mental health and sense of wellbeing.

The Scottish Government’s “National Improvement Framework Improvement” publication describes plans to upgrade Education in Scotland; much of it stems from the OECD report “Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. Into the Future” Right now we have reached a stage in the journey where we can ensure that what comes next is based on realistic targets, is actionable and focused on outcomes that benefit educators and those who are educated. The Scottish Government intends to co-create a new communications strategy for the Curriculum for Excellence. It remains to be seen if teachers will be fully involved in the change agenda that accompanies Education Reform. Many in the profession will not be convinced that lessons have been learned. Teachers must press for full inclusion in decision making processes.

In the past policy drivers emanating from the Learning Directorate have impacted on the work done in Local Government settings. This forced remodelling of extant procedures, revision of existing policy and has necessitated changes to Local Authority Education Improvement plans. Head Teachers have felt the need to alter School Improvement Plans so that national and local priorities are included. Negotiations that should take place before embarking on any new schemes did not take place on occasion. Where unplanned initiatives were instigated Working Time Agreements that had been negotiated previous to their adoption became less fit for purpose and the potential for conflict increased. Unfortunately when circumstances such as these arise in schools working relationships can become strained to the point of fracture. Inevitably stress levels increase and tension builds in the work place. This exemplifies how top down approaches to implementing change can contribute to unmanageable workloads and encourage the development of unfair working practices.

The reform agenda gives an opportunity to regenerate the curriculum and restructure the Education System from the ground up. Secondary Teachers must be at the heart of the renewal process.  Experienced teachers and SSTA representatives that have dedicated time and effort to develop their knowledge and skills are experts in their fields. It is essential that these professionals are trusted and given the opportunity to make meaningful contributions during curriculum reconstruction and development. In response to the “Putting Learners at the Centre: Towards a Vision for Scottish Education” report produced by Professor Ken Muir the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has announced that there will be a new qualifications body.  Factors such as the architecture of the school day, the structure of the academic year and activities unrelated to direct teaching of coursework must be taken into account by this organisation.  Time taken out of the school day for gathering robust and reliable data to evidence progress towards the National Improvement Framework agenda, National Standardised Assessments and PISA must also be reckoned for. These activities eat into the quantity of time available for internal assessment and preparation for external assessment. Well- informed secondary teachers and SSTA representatives must be directly involved in the establishment of a credible and fair assessment and qualification regime.

A new national agency for Scottish education will come into being.  This body must be focused on supporting teaching and learning and facilitating professional development. The very nature of Education is in question at the moment. Incorporation of more vocational courses is being called for so pupils can gain skills and aptitudes that will transfer to the work place. When curriculum change takes place there is an opportunity to develop course content that would enable the collection of naturally occurring evidence that can be used to support professional judgments on progress and level of attainment.  The creation and maintenance of a bank of resources that can be utilised in secondary schools should be a main aim. This needs to be curated, adaptive and well- signposted. The resources made available must be suitable to meet the needs of the learners in both broad general education and senior phases. Assistance for teachers at all points on the career ladder must continue to be available. The offer of a wide range and variety of information, support and training opportunities must remain. We stand at a junction.

A new independent Inspectorate will also be formed. This organisation must instil a quality assurance culture that is based on supervision, in the supportive sense of the word. Local Authority education directorates already engage in extensive quality assurance reviews in schools under their control so it is questionable whether this type of supervision should be duplicated by a National body. Perhaps their focus should be on Local Authorities and organisations that operate out with their governance.

In any event we must move away from the culture of blame, mistrust and fault finding that has emerged in some schools. Thought needs to be put into the methodology used to gather information about schools during scrutiny. The Inspectorate should ensure that measures used to capture data about quality indicators are fair, relevant and focused on naturally occurring evidence. Quality assurance should not include intrusive approaches for fact finding or necessitate collection of large portfolios of evidence. In Secondary schools analysis of this kind should not take place in the term prior to National Examinations, frankly this is a time when all effort must be placed on completing coursework and providing pupils with the guidance they need to reach their goals for attainment.  Any recommendations for improvements must be reasonable and actionable over an appropriate period of time.

These institutions must work in concert with each other and in partnership with teachers and Teacher Trade Unions.  If a constructive and inclusive approach is taken conflicts between remits can be anticipated and reduced. Temporal reality is a limiting factor and must become integral to all policy drivers. All organisations that create work for teachers and other practitioners must assess where their policy objectives overlap or are repeated. Adaptations to the curriculum, teaching and learning and qualifications must be practicable and time costed. Streamlining and reducing bureaucracy will reduce workload for all involved in Education.

Going forward an emphasis on supporting teachers to fulfil their core duties as stated in the SNCT Handbook is vital.  These duties must be prioritised during any given working week. Policy Makers, Education Officials and Managers need to realise that teacher’s time is a precious commodity that can only be used once. “Managing and organising classes through planning and preparing for teaching and learning”, and “ assessing, recording and reporting on the work of pupils’ progress to inform a range of teaching and learning approaches” are the most important aspects of a teacher’s job. These duties take a little time to do superficially but a great deal of time to do properly. Teachers must be enabled to focus their attention on these tasks because they are of upmost importance to raising attainment and closing the attainment gap. Other policy objectives are not as significant.

The fact that teachers working conditions are our young peoples’ learning conditions cannot be over stated. Education Reform gives us an opportunity to reframe the curriculum and also to re-establish working environments in which teachers can complete their work within the terms of contractual agreements. It is essential that the school day is structured in a way that allows teachers to do their job well and timetables need to provide ample time for teachers to plan, prepare, mark and correct, and give well targeted and meaningful feedback to pupils.  The Scottish Government’s proposal to reduce pupil contact time by ninety minutes within the working week would have a positive impact on pupil achievement and increase job satisfaction. Recruitment of thousands of teachers and hundreds of support staff will be necessary to reach this goal and the funding being offered by the Scottish Government to support these aims is welcome.   If steps are taken to make this a reality building positive relationships between all members of the school community, a core theme in policy related to GIRFEC becomes more attainable.  Schools could become workplaces where every teacher can perform the tasks required of them within a 35 hour working week; no matter what type of post they hold. If this is accomplished school life for pupils and work life for teachers would improve and the benefits to health and wellbeing of teachers and pupils would be substantial. Perhaps greater numbers of teachers would choose to remain in the profession if fair working conditions existed.

The curriculum has become inclusive of a myriad of social constructs and there is now an expectation that teachers will fulfil roles that are more akin to that of those who work in health and social care, this is stretching us to the limit of capacity. Teachers do not take the responsibility they have to help and encourage young people to achieve their full potential lightly.  An Educators core objective is to teach essential knowledge that brings about greater understand of the world and support pupils as they progress towards their chosen destinations. Teacher’s  go above and beyond to provide for pupils but our goodwill has been stretched to the limit as the expectation that we can  take on board more and more increases.  While these expectations have increased the willingness to pay us a fair rate for the work we do has not. The tactics used by our pay masters to delay negotiations show a complete disregard for the work that each of us carry out.  Fair dues for the job teachers do will only be achieved if we stop giving or time away for free and are resolute in this aim.

The last pay offer was derisory and far below what we would have accepted however now that it has been agreed we would expect that it will be paid as soon as possible. Further delay shows a continued disrespect for teaching professionals who have worked tremendously hard throughout the Pandemic.

The campaign for a 10% pay increase in 2022-2023 has begun and we stand ready to take action if the next pay offer is not commensurate with the professional duties we perform day and daily.


Friday 13 May 2022

Message to Members - 25 October 2021

Safety First – the fight against Covid-19 continues

Covid-19 has not gone away and the SSTA has welcomed the Government decision to continue mitigations including face coverings in schools. There was a push from some to reduce the mitigations to match other measures in other settings. However, that is not taking into account that the majority of the school population are not vaccinated and it is in the secondary school age group that the highest increase in cases of covid is occurring. The SSTA believes the priority must be to ensure teachers in schools are kept safe so that schools can remain open. This may be an unpopular position as we all know how unpleasant the current mitigations are, but they must remain in place for all until it is safe to reduce them. The failure to adhere to the mitigations will lead to schools being closed and pupils being sent home due to the lack of teachers in the coming months.

The SSTA is still insisting upon a national message rather than allowing any local discretion or interpretation at a local level to remove mitigation measures. The SSTA advises all members to take all precautions to keep themselves safe.

The SSTA has constantly said, at all engagements with Government and employers since schools returned in August, that we are not back to ‘normal’ and our only focus must be on teaching and learning as the central part of education recovery.

The existing Government guidance ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools’ to ensure a low-risk environment for learning and teaching still applies.

This includes:

  • Risk assessments to be continued
  • Environmental cleaning, hand and respiratory hygiene to continue
  • Ventilation – strengthened guidance for local authorities on CO2 monitoring
  • Face coverings in communal areas and secondary classrooms to continue
  • Physical distancing for adults at least 1m but 2m distancing expected to remain for logistical purposes
  • One way systems to be continued
  • Staggered start and stop times/ break and lunch times
  • Restrictions on assemblies
  • Support for people in the highest risk groups/pregnant staff
  • Restrictions on school visitors to continue

SSTA Members Briefing and Pensions Update 2021

The SSTA has arranged briefing sessions for members in the coming week.

The General Secretary, Seamus Searson, will give the latest information regarding Covid-19, national qualifications and the Education Reform review. There will also be a presentation on the impact of the Teachers’ Pensions consultations and the changes due to take place in April 2022 by Stuart McCullough, Independent Financial Advisor from Llife Ltd.

The briefings will be conducted remotely and will take place on:

Please select the briefing you would like to attend and complete the registration form to book your place using the links above.

Teacher Pay Negotiations 2021 – No progress to report

It has been reported that the Teachers’ Side of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) declared a formal dispute over the sub-inflationary pay offer made to Scotland’s teachers (1.22%). The declaration of dispute was a direct result of the delay in an improved offer being made by COSLA following an extended period of negotiation. 

The pay claim for 2021 was lodged in December 2020. However, the Teachers’ Side remains willing to continue negotiations through SNCT Extended Joint Chairs in the hope of a negotiated settlement.

To date, no meeting of the SNCT Extended Joint Chairs meeting has been called and the teacher unions will have no option but to progress the dispute and move to consult its members on the actions they are prepared to take to achieve a suitable pay settlement for 2021.

SSTA 76th Annual Congress (part two)

The SSTA 76th Annual Congress (part two) took place on Saturday 2 October 2021. The Congress was a hybrid event with some delegates attending in person whilst the majority attended virtually.

The Congress included an address from John Guidi, SSTA President, the report of the SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson, guest speakers Professor Walter Humes and Professor Mark Priestley, together with a number of policy motions adopted by the Association.

Please follow the link to the SSTA Congress 

Request to all members

SSTA Membership – A must for all Secondary School Teachers

The pandemic has made the recruitment of student and newly qualified members extremely difficult and we welcome your support in encouraging new colleagues in to the Association. Students in training and new entrants to the profession pay no subscription for sixteen months from the date of their teaching post. So please help to recruit your new colleagues to the only secondary specialist teachers’ union in Scotland.

All new members to the Association can benefit from our new special offer of 50% off the normal subscription for the first 12 months of paid membership when completing a direct debit with their application. This represents a saving of up to £95.00 a year based on the current 2021 subscription paying by monthly direct debit. Terms & Conditions apply

Click here to complete the online enrolment form and join the SSTA


SSTA says ‘Put Teachers at the Centre’

john Guidi president-address

Presidential Address to the 76th Congress of the SSTA

John Guidi
SSTA President
Address to the 76th Congress of the SSTA

2 October 2021

During my time as President, we have experienced two lockdowns, two consecutive years of external exams cancellations, the Alternative Certification Model, an OECD review of the curriculum and assessment, a review of Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualification Authority and now the possibility of not even a two percent pay rise.

Certainly, plenty of material to write about in a speech!

Over the last 18 months, what teachers have endured and achieved as frontline workers, has been remarkable.

Remarkable, as teachers showed leadership when schools were in lockdown. Teachers also showed new levels of professionalism as they had to develop new skills when working from home and continued delivering beyond expectations, so that young people had some form of platform to learn.

Alternative Certification Model (ACM)

Other qualities that teachers demonstrated were also resilience and adaptability. Two qualities needed for delivering the Alternative Certification Model.

The effort required to develop, moderate, assess, mark, collate and present evidence for young people, raised the workload to new levels for Senior Leaders, Principal teachers, and classroom teachers alike. Not forgetting the stress and pressure on pupils to complete their qualifications.

The ACM was an exercise that should never be repeated for a multitude of reasons. Including the lack of consistency in implementation, the lengthy moderation process, and the extensive micro-management. The ACM was a workload generator for everyone involved.

If there is a system to replace final exams or even continuous formal assessments the ACM was not it. Even with an additional payment of £400 (which is tax deductible, may I add) for the trouble.

Curriculum for Excellence (CfE)

Also, during my time as President, we had the OECD review of the Curriculum for Excellence.

Nobody at government level questioned the principles underpinning CfE. The vision was clear at the start of this journey, but somehow, they could not see where the road was leading. The theory behind changing the curriculum for the 21st Century has not translated well in implementation, especially for the senior phase.

This is mainly because the changes to the curriculum was untried and untested. There were no safeguards or knowledge of what worked and what did not work before it was fully implemented at a national level. A lack of understanding on the impact of a wholesale change in the curriculum has led to inconsistencies in approach.

The learner journey varied from which school or local authority a child was being taught. Some schools stuck with the traditional model of 2, 2, 2 model (i.e., S1&2, S3&4, S5&6) Whereas other schools adopted the 3, 3 model (S1 to S3 and S4 to S6) as transition stages.

It seems that moving to a 3, 3 model was based on a belief system rather than having established facts, because it was never done before.  

Another criticism of CfE is the structure of the National qualification courses.

According to our survey of members, National Qualifications level 3, 4 and 5 were predominately multicourse qualifications. Where the course content at each level did not match exactly in some subjects, and in other subjects, there was no match in content at all.

The SSTA survey also pointed out that many teachers were given the difficult task of teaching these multicourse qualifications concurrently in a single class.  This has also extended into Higher classes, the gold standard, running alongside National 5 classes.

This scenario was not the case for Standard grades. Standard Grade Foundation, General and Credit courses were multilevel qualifications where each level covered the same content but expanded upon. A far cry from National qualifications. Also, Standard Grade was rolled out with course notes and questions for each subject.  Unlike National qualifications where teachers had to adapt existing materials and, in many subjects, create new resources whilst teaching these new qualifications.

National qualifications also introduced unit assessments. A workload generator for pupils and staff due to the inherent flaws in implementation as the units were assessing pupils at level C, unlike the final exam, and the principle of multiple attempts until pupils passed was a logistical nightmare for those who failed or missed a unit assessment.

If we are to progress in terms of assessment, we should incorporate some form of teacher judgement that also has the minimum impact on workload and is fair and equitable to pupils.

But the criticisms of CfE especially at the senior phase, were made long before the OECD review. Any calls for a delay in the implementation of CfE were brushed aside by the strategic top-down management decision making.

The OECD were critical of a system that had politically inspired superfluous hype rather than effective and robust policies. A world filled with acronyms that were difficult to decipher and full of jargons. As it turns out, for CfE the labyrinth of expectations and outcomes (E&Os) supplemented with generic statements were open to interpretation offering solutions that created their own problems!

Lost by what I just said? So were the teachers!

The rollout for CfE was not building on knowledge and strengths of previous qualifications. It was a cultural and systematic change that wiped the slate clean from our strengths of the past, and to match the CfE principles that believed was better for the future. Something that our professional association has been concerned about at an early stage of its development.

If curriculum change was a battlefield, and tactics were deployed to win the battle, then we must move away from the top-down management style of Field Marshalls dictating strategies and procedures for the troops on the ground. 

The battlefield has changed in the 21st Century. The strategy now will require specialist teams akin to the SAS delivering the appropriate changes for each specific subject in secondary schools, to prevent the mistakes that CfE introduced.

This is essential. After all, the specialist subject teachers should know what is best to teaching and assessing their own subject from BGE level to the Senior phase. Including, no interference from Field Marshalls behind their desks, dictating from the top.

Historically, there has been inherent lack of trust in teachers within the education system. To move forward appropriate mechanism for Teacher Agency, the capacity for teachers to act, not just at school level but also at National level. Teachers would be empowered to a greater extent to have control over changes in the curriculum and assessments, whilst maintaining a national standard.

A mechanism to promote teacher agency is to embrace subject specialists as the lead teachers. However, it seems in a new era of possibly future financial constraints is looming due to the pandemic and the opportunity to develop lead teacher as subject specialists is looking very limited.

There is also another caveat to consider. After the implementation of CfE, are teachers and pupils willing to go through another wholesale change in the curriculum? Well, if it goes the same way as before, surely, we will have to reconsider our options.

Education Review

Another consequence of the pandemic is the review of Education Scotland and the SQA.

An independent expert panel and advisory group has been set up to understand the needs of our schools, practitioners, and learners. The review will look at replacing the SQA and removing the inspection function from Education Scotland.

On face value, the expert panel have a broad range of well-respected academics and leaders, but it can be argued regarding this expert panel, that there is a lack of representation from teachers, but we recognise that our professional association’s voice can be heard through the Professional and Stakeholder Advisory Group. (PaSAG)

The review of the external agencies SQA and Education Scotland will equally affect all our members. Our contribution to the review, should in many respects go beyond as stakeholders but act as partners. Not only can our professional association impart the knowledge, expertise, and experience from members to the benefit of the pupils as well as the profession.

It will allow teachers to have a positive impact to shape Scottish Education for many years to come.

Looking back to the history of Scottish education, again, we have changed our external agencies and qualifications body before. The SQA were formally the Scottish Examination Board and Education Scotland were once called Learning and Teaching Scotland.

However, it should not have taken the pandemic again for the Scottish Government to enquire about the remit and function of our external agencies.

Once the Education review report is finalised and published, will it still answer some questions that our association will ask:

If the signposts outside each agency office is going to change, would that mean the décor inside will also change?

Will the new inspectorate be independent of Scottish government and scrutinise government policies as well as schools and local authorities?

Who will scrutinise the new inspectorate?

Will “How Good Is Our School 4” (HGIOS 4) be replaced with HGIOS 5?

Will Scottish Education change its main mantra from promoting administration excellence and swing towards pedagogical excellence?

If any external agency is to change, then a change in culture is required. One possibility is to readdress the balance between support and scrutiny of teachers.

For secondary teachers, scrutiny comes in many forms. From the school leadership, the local authority, the inspectorate and the SQA. Since the beginning of our first lockdown, there have been no inspections from any agency. Has the whole of Scottish Education collapsed? No, it has not. It shows the Scottish Education system is robust and effective under severe pressure and strain without the need of excessive scrutiny at different levels.

In terms of support, Education Scotland (and the former Learning Teaching Scotland) have had provided some excellent support materials for some subjects in the past. But the materials weren’t really updated and links to the Education Scotland website was difficult to navigate. For example, in my subject Physics there was a lack of support in resources through official external agencies during the pandemic. The support mechanism needs to be continuous and adaptable for a changing digital world and not an end point so that a box is ticked under the heading of “done” or “completed”.

Addressing the culture, will allow more support and it will help to shape the future to a more inclusive and equitable system for young people and teachers.

Education Recovery

As Scottish Education is considering future changes in the curriculum, assessment, and the external agencies, we are still facing the consequences of a pandemic.

Our immediate priority should be educational recovery.

We need to ditch the peripheral and maintain the essential. Teachers need time to teach, and pupils need time to learn.

We need to maintain the mitigation measures and relax our controls on covid in a sensible and measured manner for the safety of all pupils and staff. This professional association supports the opportunity to vaccinate young people to keep this insidious virus at bay.

The immediate challenge is to deliver a quality educational experience for young people with the hope that we do not go through another lockdown and from what we have learned in the cancellations of final exams, we can give pupils a chance to attain fairly the qualifications they deserve.

Teachers need time to teach and a reduction in bureaucratic processes to cross the line by the end of this session. It is for this and many other reasons that our strapline is

“Teachers Leading Learning”

Teachers are leading the way to recovery. Our external agencies should appreciate what is happening in schools and classrooms under very challenging circumstances.

Experiences as President

My experiences as President have had many positives. I witnessed the true value of professionalism in teachers. Listening to teachers, how they helped pupils to learn and achieve their ambitions no matter the circumstances. How teachers supporting colleagues during a pandemic whether it was in front of a class or in front of a computer screen.

I was fortunate at the start of my Presidency to visit the OECD offices in Paris as a representative of the Trade Union Advisory Committee. (TUAC). I experienced at first hand, the issues that teachers faced around the globe and how to make a better future for young people.

Another privilege of being president is participating in a bilateral meeting of the SSTA Executive with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. These meetings give the opportunity for our professional association to express the views of secondary teachers. Our recent discussion in September, for example discussed the OECD review, national qualifications for 2022, teachers’ pay and career progression and developing a continuous working partnership with the Scottish Government. This open and direct communication from our Professional Association perspective is to improve the working life in the secondary sector. It is our aim to reduce workload, bureaucracy, and stress, and in turn allowing us to focus our attention on teaching and learning for the benefit of pupils.

I hope that sooner than later we can all meet face to face, shake hands and enjoy each other’s company. Ditching the computer screen and having personal contact is important. After all it is the system that we have adopted after reopening schools at the last lockdown.

There is so much more to discuss in Scottish Education, but just like a lesson that must be delivered within a specific time frame, there are things that we still must addressed.

The career structure: What will become of the Lead Teacher role?

The protracted pay negotiations: Will it be the same cycle of below inflation pay awards for several years followed by a bumper pay out 10 years from now?

Health and mental well-being; Will teachers be able to afford to retire at 60 before burnout?

Food for thought for the next President.

I would like to finish to say thank you for the support from all those around me. Especially my wife Sarah, my children Lucia and Alessia, my colleagues at Mearns Castle High School, too many to name and also my Local Authority, East Renfrewshire Council. I must also thank the backroom staff of the SSTA and all those in the Secretariat, the Executive and finally the General Secretary Seamus Searson.

Congress 2019

Presidential Address - 75th Annual Congress

Kevin Campbell, SSTA President

Address to the 75th Congress of the SSTA

Colleagues it gives me immense pleasure and no small amount of pride to welcome you all to the 75th Annual Congress of the SSTA.

I’d like to extend a warm and heartfelt fraternal greeting to our friends and comrades from our fellow unions and to the members of the press who are in attendance. Furthermore, I implore any politician who is here as a guest of the Association: please listen carefully to what we are saying. It is in places like this and at the coming EIS AGM that you will hear the voices of the “experts”. Not at parliamentary committees, not at panels of academics or “stakeholders”, not at the OECD or even, dare I say it at Education Scotland or the RICs but here where our profession gathers to discuss what the situation really is and uses the combined weight of hundreds of years of experience and practice to evaluate what is best for Scotland’s children and for the professionals who will deliver Scotland’s future!


Most importantly, however, I’d like to welcome our delegates, as selected by districts from across the length and breadth of Scotland. For me, you and our sister union’s representatives are the most important people in any school, for it is you who have decided to put your efforts into safeguarding the working conditions of your colleagues and it is you who is helping build the best educational environment, often at odds with some of the ridiculous ideas of our bosses, for our young people!

Colleagues, even the not so observant amongst you will have noticed this year’s strapline: Teaching Scotland’s Future. Now this may sound grandiose but that is exactly what we are doing and we are doing it in a climate in which, I feel, aspects of that future are under dire threat.  The World in which we live is becoming ever more precarious. Democracy, as we experience it, is in my opinion under siege. We are seeing the rise, across our planet, of unethical, amoral and downright disgusting political opportunism and right-wing, neo-liberal populism. Our rights as citizens are being eroded on a continual basis. The little democracy we are allowed, and remember this democracy was fought for and won through the blood and sweat of our trade union forebears, is gradually being scraped away, layer by layer. A good example being that on one of the days of the absurd bickering in the House of Commons about Brexit the “government” slipped in under the radar the cutting by up to 25% of housing benefit for people with spare rooms! Now that I’ve mentioned it, we just can’t get rid of the ongoing nonsense of Brexit, with the uncertainty that it brings and the platform it, either intentionally or unintentionally, gives xenophobes and racists. I find it strange that I am able to quote or rather paraphrase, of all people, a comedian- Frankie Boyle, whom, I tried to persuade Seamus and Alan to invite as our guest speaker. They weren’t having it. But yes colleagues, Glasgow’s own son, Frankie Boyle, whom I watched on TV asking why it is that our media allows these xenophobes and racists a platform from which to spew their repugnancy as if they actually had a rational and valid argument? Remember: this is the same media that is creating the spring board by which, and I say this with absolute conviction, the enemies of all mankind- Jacob Reece-Mogg and Boris Johnson, can launch their vile views upon our people in their attempts to become the Prime Minister of the UK! Colleagues, if this happens we should prepare for the very worst. Rees-Mogg and Johnson have articulated with unashamed clarity that the first thing to go after Brexit is worker’s rights. Both of these men, and their party in general actively want to return this country to the Victorian era and want workers kept in their place as slaves to their masters, ie them. Rees-Mogg is a border line fascist who in the past has shared speeches from the German far right AfD on his Twitter account. He is a disaster capitalist who makes millions from people’s misery. Johnson is an aristocratic thug and a chauvinist of the worst hue. This pair’s views are not exactly underrepresented amongst Tories.

Colleagues, this isn’t just a general rant, The Tories are the sworn enemy of the Trade Unions and of the majority of the children we teach. Look at what they have done to the education system of England. They have destroyed it! Rampant privatisation has led to the complete erosion of any semblance of a unified comprehensive system. Schools are operating without qualified staff, the rise of religious fundamentalist schools of all stripes, grammar schools, and “academies”. On top of this, management bullying and utterly contemptible performance related pay structures, which are solely based on whether the boss likes you. The ongoing atomisation of the comprehensive system in England makes it very difficult for our sister unions to effectively organise and negotiate at a national level. To us the English system may seem a million miles away but colleagues we must remain vigilant, there are many characters in Scotland who want to enact the same crime here! To them our charges are nothing more than fodder for their slave shops and their wars.

Colleagues, the Tories don’t need Brexit for any of the aforementioned but the Brexit debacle will have further negative impacts on our profession. As mentioned, the Tories are already planning an all out offensive on the working people of this country. Ladies and gentlemen, that will include teachers. We are already seeing in Scotland, that some of our co-workers from EU countries are electing to leave as Brexit either effects them or members of their families. We are seeing that the number of applicants to come into our profession from the EU are falling. Colleagues this is criminal! Talking of criminality, the GTCS are also rightly concerned about the loss of the database through which they check for criminal records from EU applicants. They fear a return to a hit and miss approach to finding this information out, as it will then be a case of relying on the law enforcement agencies of the applicants country of origin responding with the required info. The point is of course, the people most negatively affected shall be the pupils in our classrooms who will be going without a teacher because we have allowed small minded bigotry and parochialism to manoeuvre our country into this position. Our children welcome diversity, it opens their minds to how other people live and how they may in future choose to live. We need to oppose this and call on the Scottish Government to take concrete action against anything that reduces the horizon towards which the vast majority of our children gaze.

Comrades, I don’t know about you but for me this has been a slog of a year. As is perennially the case we have been involved in a three way battle with our bosses. Pay, workload and pupil behaviour. These three issues have plagued our profession since its inception. At this, our Association’s 75th Congress we are talking about the same issues as we did at the 1st! Fair enough, I’m sure there was also a lot of talk about why this Association even had to exist in the first place but nevertheless, I’d be prepared to bet that these things were also on the agenda.

However, everything is relative and I’m positive that every single one of you would agree that we are suffering from historically unmanageable workloads and behaviour and that on these fronts we’ve yet to score any sort of victory whatsoever. Colleagues we need to be committed to changing that! As an aside, I was looking through a document from our archives and found an article in a magazine we produced at the time. This magazine was highlighting issues with growing pupil indiscipline, much like I’m going to. However, the reasons cited made me laugh out loud. At that time the causes of our young people’s unwillingness to do what they’re bloody well told was thought to revolve around them listening to subversive music on Satan’s wireless and watching innocence destroying and culturally damaging movies at the cinema. What?  Westerns and Musicals?! Fair enough this was the 50’s but it makes you wonder what the reasons would have been a few years later in the 60’s!

Anyway, this year did see a major victory for our Union. The stalwart determination of and the partnership between the SSTA and the EIS has resulted in the 10% breaking pay deal. Colleagues, this didn’t just happen. Our profession mobilised on this issue on a scale scarcely seen in Scottish Union history! 30000 teachers, their families and supporters took to the streets of Glasgow to demand our just due. Anyone who was there that day should never forget that they were a part of trade union history. To be able to look behind you at any point and see what appears to be a never ending procession of thousands upon thousands of your brothers and sisters receding into the distance and the same in front was, for me awe inspiring! As soon as my wife and I entered Kelvingrove Park and saw the number of people already gathered there, long before the march was to start, I knew we were in for something special. Colleagues what an occasion that was! We have to give credit to our comrades in arms in the EIS for their fantastic efforts in getting that march organised and in ensuring the mobilisation of their membership. However, the success of the pay campaign wasn’t just down to the march in Glasgow that day. The numbers turning out to demonstrate were as high as they were because we have simply had enough! The level of anger and frustration teachers are feeling, then and now, is palpable. We can’t take any more! We already know that we can’t get people in, that people are leaving and those of us determined to stay are increasingly finding it difficult to remain but even though, it just keeps getting worse! Whilst talking to members over the last year or so it is evident that the pay issue was not the foremost issue. Or at least was only one amongst the other issues that are making our job so very difficult.

Colleagues, Curriculum for Excellence, whilst utterly laudable in its principles has been, in its implementation, an absolute nightmare for our profession. It has been, from the start, a half arsed, half baked hodgepodge of semi rational notions of pedagogical rationales and curricular inconsistencies. At virtually no point in its history has our profession been fully consulted in its ideological underpinnings, curricular necessities or implementation. Indeed at every turn the voice of teachers has been ignored. Why? Is it because, on some level, the bureaucrats in charge realised we would recognise the contradictions between what they said it should be and what it turned out to actually be? Is it because they see us as wreckers who would upset their plans by insisting on well thought out and joined up strategies? Or is it because they know we would see the insidious culture of ever increasing workloads implicit in the wholesale removal of one system to be replaced with another having had zero groundwork put in? Colleagues, they wanted it all, yesterday! It was never going to work. They blazed on regardless, knowing, indeed expecting, that we would carry the burden that we would just knuckle down and get on with it. The thing is, we have! We are the reason that the education system in Scotland isn’t a complete shambles. Some may argue it is but nevertheless we continue to spend unthinkable volumes of time and effort in trying to make this system work. Comrades, we need to say enough is enough! Our health, our families and our sanity should be worth more than sorting out the mess that our education system is in. We have to say no! We have to take action to reduce the workload! We have to resist the culture that insists on constantly re-designing the wheel, constantly wanting to re-work what we are already doing, constantly wants to codify our responsibilities and erode our professionalism:-  resist the bureaucratic insistence on handing us down our instructions from on high in the form of HGIOS. Comrades, in Northern Ireland, as part of their ongoing industrial action, they have refused to interact with their version of Education Scotland, this has led to teachers taking back their power to decide what’s best for the young people in front of them and has led to the removal of fear from managers to ensure they have all their silly checklists, in their concertina folders completed. It has removed the need to micro manage staff in the angst they may not be meeting one of the quality indicators! Incidentally, the drive for the recording of evidence on every aspect of a child’s ability and the fear of not having that evidence, in my opinion, is leading to a burgeoning culture of management bullying in our schools. Colleagues for our Irish friends the result is more time to just get on with what they are good at, teaching!

We know the implementation of CfE was poorly thought out and enacted, but we are several years down the line now and the issues are not being resolved. Our school structures cannot meet the demands that the curriculum places upon them. The desire to offer pupils every thing, when they want it and how they want it just can’t work! I’d like to ask if there is anyone in this room that works at a school where the timetable isn’t in some way or another making their job harder than it needs to be? Isn’t this because it is impossible to deliver the demands being placed upon it? There just isn’t the resources. There aren’t enough teachers or rooms! There also isn’t the expertise amongst senior managers to be able to design the parameters within which all this can be delivered. No wonder, who has?! This inevitably leads to the situation where a teacher has to contend with multi-course classes, split classes, sharing rooms, a lack of resources, over subscribed classes, reduced teaching commitments for BGE classes etc. You all know: this just means more work for us! My own Local Authority, through my constant raging and ranting about it, just to shut me up for 5 minutes,  recently conducted a survey of teachers to try and understand how timetabling affects workload. The results were incontrovertible and overwhelming: teachers, in huge numbers cite timetabling as being a prominent reason for increased workload. The level of planning involved due to timetabling shortfalls becomes onerous and unmanageable. How can learning and teaching and thus attainment be made better in these circumstances? Add to that continual, (still) changes to the curriculum, a lack of clarity and exposition regarding assessment arrangements, constant cover demands, the need to find time to try and understand and implement your responsibilities around GIRFEC and inclusion, constantly having to negotiate subject levels with kids and managers, having to pick up the pieces from inappropriate subject level choices, i.e. everybody doing every level and every unit, ever reducing budgets, the demands of tracking and monitoring, report writing and parents nights and of course all the other things I haven’t mentioned of which there will no doubt be hunners and the situation becomes clear: comrades, we are being asked, no forced, to do an impossible job. It cannot be done! Of course, ultimately it is the children of Scotland who will suffer, are already suffering, when they don’t get the time they require with their teacher and when their teacher doesn’t get the time they need to do their job.

Now, this takes me on to my next topic. Colleagues as mentioned earlier, if you were to peruse the history of our Association, you wouldn’t be long in finding complaints about behaviour. Obviously wherever children are involved there are going to be issues with how they behave. We have to accept there are elements of being a teenager that just aren’t going to go away. Rebelliousness, for instance is, in my opinion a good thing. Teenagers should question what they are told by adults. How else do they develop independent thought? They should be able to consider the situation and weigh up the pros and cons of it and how it relates to them and what they want or need. However, I would argue that the present situation in our schools has gone way beyond such innocent personality building. In recent surveys conducted by our Association it can be seen that over 70% of you are being effected by this on a regular basis. Colleagues, how many of you can say you have not been, at least, verbally abused just this week. For me, this verbal abuse ranks top of all stress inducing factors in my job.  Colleagues, there seems to be an expectation that we are to be subjected to the most foul abuse on a daily basis, often more than once. Pupils are belligerent in the extreme in their use of language. Very often violent, personalised, sexualised, homophobic and sexist language, occasionally sectarian and racist. The latter two though, in my experience are rarer. Nonetheless, to be subjected to this sort of language on a continuous basis is damaging. It’s damaging for morale, self-esteem and ones health. I suspect however, even more damaging is the lack of support staff can expect from their managers. The lack of action taken against such individuals or the perceived, sometimes open implication that somehow or another you were to blame for the situation only makes it worse. Simply put, children are not to be accountable for their actions! Colleagues, how has this situation come to be? Are these children to be exempt from the laws of our country when they leave school? Do we want a society where no one answers for their actions? Do we want a society devoid of respect for others?

To my mind this sort of behaviour has slowly evolved over the course of the last two decades, it has worsened under the aegis of CfE.

The Nurture or “Cuddle” culture, stipulates that the child is to be at the centre of all aspects of education, a la GIRFEC. As a progressive and a socialist I have no problem with this notion in any way whatsoever. What I do have a problem with, and I suspect many of you do too, is with the notion that with the many rights a child has, and these rights must absolutely be upheld at all costs, is the direct result of how we have implemented this paradigm. Namely, that a child has many rights but never a single responsibility! This culture has led to the situation where a teacher almost has no authority over their charges. When attempting to maintain discipline in the class room a teacher can expect to be challenged on every instruction issued with cries of “I don’t need to do what you say” or “you’ve no right to make me do this” or even the tried and tested “I’m getting my mum and /or dad up here.” This leads to an intolerable position of powerlessness for the teacher. When these issues are raised with PT’s or Guidance there is often an extreme reluctance to resolve this power imbalance. These colleagues feel that they are in the same position of powerlessness. Why is this? I feel, and many won’t appreciate hearing it, that the central issue lies with many teachers ideas of how Pupil Support should operate within a school. The core concepts around the wellbeing of the child lead many to assume that this means they cannot or should not suffer a consequence for their actions. Most often you will be told about how awful their backgrounds are and of the many issues they have to deal with. Colleagues, I don’t doubt it! I spoke at length last year about how many of our children are suffering from the health and social affects of the criminal levels of poverty suffered by many of our people, indeed I would argue the majority of our people. Child poverty is at its highest level in 20 years! However, are we doing our children any favours by allowing them to think that how they are treated at school is actually how they will be treated as adults? I don’t think we are, indeed I think we are allowing our children to develop a seriously distorted idea of the society they will emerge into. In fact, we are creating for these children a complete fantasy! In the real world they WILL be held accountable for their actions, be it in the workplace, within their communities or in a court of law! It is critical that we impart to our pupils the need for discipline, especially self discipline. We can argue about how best to achieve this but we must absolutely agree in the first instance that it must be accomplished. Our senior bosses in schools, Local Authorities and in the Government must accept this. They need to empower our profession to take back control in our classrooms.

As I’ve said this revolves around the notion that with rights come responsibilities. In my opinion you don’t have the right to not have responsibilities! Also, as any probationer should know: children need boundaries, they want boundaries. Having boundaries makes it easy for everyone to know where they stand and what they are able to do and not do. We often hear about the right to an education but should you continue to have that right when you are infringing upon the rights of your classmates to their education or indeed, when you are infringing upon the right of your teacher not to be verbally or physically abused? We need our bosses to support us and challenge pupils’ and parents’ unacceptable behaviour.

 At the heart of many of these issues is Inclusion. Colleagues, I’m not talking about Inclusion as you or I understand it or want it to mean i.e. the notion that all children, regardless of any impediment, have the right to learn to the best of their ability in the same conditions as their peers or in the conditions that best suit their needs, I’m talking about Inclusion in the world of austerity! The cuts to our education services since the calamitous worldwide crash of 2008 has led to an environment where almost all special educational needs establishments have been closed down. There is no longer specialised provision for children with acute behavioural needs or even for children with hearing or sight impairments. The services that remain extant are under constant threat! The funding once in place for these services has not followed the pupils into the mainstream. On top of this the attacks on PSA’s go on unremittingly. Our schools cannot function without these highly committed colleagues. It is they who support these children through the most trying and difficult periods of their time in school. All of this is justified in terms of Inclusion! Colleagues, it is a bare faced lie! This is the natural conclusion of the Tories horrific and murderous attack on the people of this country. These cuts must be resisted with all of our collective might! 

Comrades, I believe that in order to tackle the issues we face with workload and behaviour we are going to need to tap into the anger and frustration I mentioned earlier in my speech. To do that is going to require every one of us stepping up their game. We need to be in our schools setting an example. We need to be leading our colleagues on these issues. We need to be the first person putting in the violent incident form, the pain in the arse demanding a pupil risk assessment, the trouble maker down at the headteachers office demanding they take action around issues as they arise, we need to be in our departments reminding colleagues and PT’s what our terms and conditions actually are and not what some may like them to be. We need to be in our LNCT’s demanding our bosses take cognisance of our demands and make them take action, zero tolerance posters in the classrooms, receptions and staffrooms of our schools would be a start. Colleagues we need to ensure we are doing our utmost to engage our members. Organise regular meetings to discuss the issues, put out regular informational emails, share what comes out from the District and HQ. We need to organise to recruit new teachers, both students and probationers. We need our General Secretary and President kicking down John Swinney’s door to demand he take action!

Folk in my school often ask me for advice about this, that and the next thing and what they should do about various issues, colleagues, more often than not my answer is “say you’re not bloody well doing it,” often enough I think I may get it tattooed on my forehead, in Gaelic though cos I like to appear cultured. My mates often rib me asking what does a union rep do anyway? I tell them I’m out putting my life on the line for their jobs! I’m joking but there is an element of truth in that. Obviously it’s not the same union landscape in which courageous men and women have indeed given their lives over the course of the last two centuries fighting for every single right we enjoy today but we do need to be courageous. We need to take our fight to the bosses and demand action! We need to stand up to bullying and disrespectful behaviour from our bosses, parents or kids! We need to make our union an example to all teachers, if we do we can make our jobs the life affirming vocations they once were!

We need to follow the old union maxim of organise, educate, agitate!

Thank you.

17th May 2019


Report of the General Secretary - SSTA Annual Congress 2018

SSTA General Secretary Speech to Congress 2018

We are approaching 75 years of the SSTA and the issues in 1944 are the same as the issue of 2018 to protect the interests of secondary teachers in Scotland.

Concerns over conditions of service, pay and workload appear throughout our history and will probably do so for a good number of years.

The objects of the Association are

  • To advance education in Scotland with particular regard to secondary education :
  • To safeguard and promote the interests of secondary teachers in all matters, especially in such affect remuneration and other conditions of service.

The voice of the secondary school teacher must be heard above the demands for change or changes imposed will result in the famous phrase, I hear a lot, the “unintended consequences”.  That will usually end in the changes having to be undone and with extra teacher workload.

I will focus first on the issues that SSTA members are demanding to be heard

The Teacher Shortage

The SSTA response is simple and direct ‘Teacher Retention, Recruitment and Restoration’.

  1. Retention – The first priority is to keep the teachers we have. It makes no sense not to value the experienced teachers we have. Any attempt to focus on recruitment misses the point. Our teachers for the most part have qualified in Scotland, gained experience here and have maintained the education service despite years of unnecessary austerity cuts.

The years of austerity measures have seen teacher numbers cut, promotion opportunities reduced, reduction in pay in ‘real terms, increased workload, cuts in educational support staff and have left the teacher in the classroom alone and unsupported to face the world.

Why not take all measures ‘pull out all the stops’ to encourage teachers to stay. This can be achieved by paying teachers properly, providing a ‘real’ career structure, valuing teacher’s professional judgment, find much needed teacher time by reducing workload, and giving teachers ‘real’ support with the appropriate educational professionals in meeting the challenges that pupils bring in to schools.

  1. Recruitment – the second priority, to encourage more people into the profession. In 2017 there were 1750 Secondary PGDE places but 30% were left unfilled. Teaching is not attractive when we have low pay, spiralling workload demands and when schools are unable to meet the needs of more demanding and challenging pupils.

Some say it is the teacher unions that are running-down the profession.  Unfortunately that is an excuse to deflect responsibility, rather than address the issues that teachers try to bring to the table. Ignoring or not accepting the message of the SSTA is just storing-up problems for the future.

SSTA is not going to stop putting the views of its members to those who make the decisions and can help address the problems that teachers have identified.

We need to encourage people to join the profession with offers of professional respect, professional levels of pay, career development and a manageable workload. Teaching should be seen as a career for life not a job for a few years until something better comes along.

  1. Restoration

The numbers speak for themselves. The top of the main grade point 6 in 2008 was £32,583 and in 2018 it is £36,480. This is an increase of 11.96% in 10 years. But the rate of inflation over the same period has been 26% leaving a loss of more than 14% in teachers’ pay over the last 10 years.

However, that is not the full story as teachers now pay an extra 1.4% National Insurance and an extra 3.3% pension contribution that makes a total 18.7% deficit in terms of real take home pay. To address this short fall the main grade teacher salary should be in the region of £43,000 in order to restore pay.

The SSTA is a full member of the SNCT and the 10% SNCT claim is our claim. This 10% claim not unreasonable and is the first step in a restorative pay claim. The Government needs to support and value its teachers by making a major effort to restore teacher pay levels.

Teacher Career Pathways

Again the figures are clear of the scale of the problem.

In 2010 there were 24,776 secondary teachers but by 2017 that number fell to 23,150 a reduction of 1626 (a reduction of 7%).

The number of Depute Headteacher posts fell from by 1242 to 1108 a reduction 134 (a reduction of 9%).

However, the number of principal teacher posts over the same period fell from 6617 to 5392 a reduction of 1225 (a reduction of 8%). This meant 75% of the teaching posts lost were principal teacher posts.

This is compounded when you add the end of the Chartered Teacher Scale with no replacement and the devastating devaluing of supply teachers by cutting their pay. The employers and schools abused supply teachers for many years by breaking their service to keep them at the bottom of the scale. Is it any wonder they disappeared from the system. The delay in implementing a national supply register is continuing the unfair treatment of our supply teachers.

Many of these changes were not sought for by teachers but took place to save money and squeeze those teachers left in the system.

Have the demands placed on schools reduced during between 2010 and 2017? No, they have continued to increase. Additional workload beyond the classroom, the demands of the national qualification system and the teacher accountability measures have also have increased. The “unintended consequence” is that teaching became less attractive as a career and would eventually lead to a teacher shortage. This was completely predictable and avoidable.

SSTA has advocated a progressive review of the teacher career pathways and looks forward to flexible and alternative routes for teachers throughout their careers.

The SSTA expects proper recognition for all teacher roles in the education system, especially those in the classroom. The focus must be on teaching and learning.

Teacher Workload

‘Put pupils first – give teachers time to teach!’

We need to give teachers back control of their time. Teachers need to focus on teaching and learning, and put to one side those duties and tasks that do not help the teacher in the classroom. We are making progress but more needs to be done.

We must ensure that the teacher contract is honoured and teacher workload is reasonably managed by strict control of the school’s Working Time Agreement.

All school improvement plans, local authority improvement plans, regional improvement plans and government priorities need to be accommodated within the Working Time Agreement.

It is not hard for those creating priorities and new initiatives to have the proposals to be considered by schools in January of each year before the school begins work on the Working Time Agreement.

It often appears that Government, Education Scotland, local authorities and sometimes Headteachers in schools don’t understand what a Working Time Agreement is and the need to prioritise and plan the work for the coming school year.

A good case in point is the introduction of subject Bench Marks, Standardised Assessments and National 5 changes last year. They were introduced after many school Working Time Agreements had been agreed.

Then the powers to be demanded that the training and hours of work needed were a priority and put pressure on the teachers in the schools to get the work done before the Inspectorate arrived. This way of managing change needs to stop. Good planning and acceptance that everything cannot be delivered at once is the only way forward. Teachers are tired of being pressurised and overloaded. Teachers need to say NO more often.

National Qualifications

The Deputy First Minister said in relation to the changes to National 5

“This will help to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers and learners. It is not enough to have good teachers if they do not have the time and space to do their job. That is why groups like this are essential to help us strip away anything that creates unnecessary workload for the profession”

Teachers were told to expect changes to assessment arrangements but not to course content. Last year the SSTA survey on National 5 changes, predicted the increased workload across all subjects of the proposed changes.

In the last week SSTA conducted a survey at the end of the National 5 course on the impact of the changes. 1,168 members responded across all subjects.

The Overall impact on Teacher Workload 21% said there had been no reduction in workload with 66% of teachers seeing an increase in workload.

The Removal of units - 34% of teachers had seen no reduction in workload with a further 34% seeing an increase in workload.

The Extending of the Exams 30% saw no reduction in workload whilst a further 52% saw an increase

The Changes to coursework 24% saw no reduction and 49% saw an increase in teacher workload.

However, the Impact on pupils of the changes to National 5 is very worrying, especially when there has been a lot of talk about pupil’s health and wellbeing and mental health.

Members have seen a 57% increase in pupil workload, a 68% increase in pupil stress and a 28% expected decrease in qualification success. We all need to ask the question why we are doing this to our children

The Ministers expectation that removal of the units would reduce teacher workload has been undermined when he agreed to the retention of ‘fallback’. This has resulted in 90,000 unit entries taking place at National 5. It is worth noting that ‘fallback’ had been intended to be used only in exceptional circumstances.

This crudely equates to 30,000 students completing 3 units per subject would mean approximately 70+ pupils in every secondary school were ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Again SSTA predicted that teacher workload would not be reduced and it would put additional pressure on teachers and pupils. We are creating ‘examination factories’ not places of learning where happiness is seen as a good and valued thing.

The National Qualification system needs to be reviewed the present system is not working for our pupils. The conflict between broad general education and the senior phase needs to be resolved. National qualifications have become “never mind the quality feel the width”. The situation of National 4 must be addressed urgently and the premise that is a stepping stone to National 5 is not justified when less than 25% of pupils are progressing to National 5.

We need a system that primarily focuses on teacher professional judgement without the workload heavy, bureaucratic and administrative nonsense we have now.

Teaching and Incidents of Violence

The SSTA survey (March 1079 responses) confirmed the regular reports we have been receiving at headquarters from members of the increasing problem of poor behaviour in schools.

In our survey 70% of members experienced incidents of serious verbal abuse; 60% had experienced incidents of threatening or menacing behaviour and 19% experienced incidents of physical assault

Headteachers and Teachers feel unsupported in trying to maintain good discipline in schools. The constant statistical drive to reduce permanent and temporary exclusions is putting tremendous pressures on schools and teachers.

Exclusions have become to be seen as a teacher and the school failing. When in reality it is showing that schools, following years of staffing and funding cuts, are unable to meet the needs of all their pupils in the schools. These pupils become frustrated and disillusioned and ‘hit back’ at the teachers and the remaining few education support staff in schools.

In our survey 28% of teachers said they were not familiar with the reporting of incidents of violence procedure in their school or authority.

And when asked ‘Did you report it’

only 55% of those who suffered serious verbal abuse did report it;

only 66% of teachers threatened or received menacing behaviour and

only 71% reported physical assault.

But the most telling statistic only 33% said they felt supported or received feedback after the incident.

The difficulties in reporting incidents and the perceived lack of ‘no action being taken’ undermines teachers and fails to address the needs and the worsening conditions in schools. The high number of teachers who feel that the schools try to ‘sweep it under the carpet’ and not address the issue is alarming.

Schools and local authorities ‘who put their heads in the sand’ and fail to address the issue are just storing up problems in the future. It is far better to address the behaviour at the earliest stage before it gets out of hand. It is no wonder that teachers are leaving our schools when levels of poor behaviour and lack of support is a regular occurrence in schools.

All violent incidents of must be reported, and any overly bureaucratic and duplicate processes need to be removed. It is not unreasonable for teachers to expect action to be taken by the employers and the schools to reduce these incidents and protect staff. But overall teachers need to be believed and supported when these incidents occur.

Education Bill 2018


Take it as a given that SSTA members care about education and getting the best for their pupils. The main areas of concern for SSTA members are very straightforward pay, workload and pupil behaviour.

The Education Bill is intended to create a school and teacher-led education system. But when governments legislate it must be built on public consensus. In this case the changes intended are not welcomed by the majority of the public and in some instances are already happening.

The creation of Regional Improvement Collaboratives is already happening without legislation.

Improving parental and community engagement and strengthen the voice of children and young people is a place schools would like to be but a lack of funding to provide staff and time has not helped. Provide the resource and it will happen again no need for legislation.

The creation of a Headteachers’ Charter is unwanted by many Head teachers as they are already struggling to cope with all the demands placed upon them. There is no public consensus for this so Minister don’t proceed.

The last plank of the legislation is Education Workforce Council teachers don’t need it and other education workers are not demanding it. To introduce it would be an imposition and not what the public wants.

The priority must be to make changes that are going to help the teacher in the classroom today. If the proposed Education Bill is not going to help teachers in the classroom today then don’t do it. It does not address the issues that are important to teachers today Pay, workload and pupil behaviour.

Teacher Voice

Over the last year the teacher voice has been marginalised and in particular the voice of the secondary school teacher. The Minister has rearranged those who he talks to and listens to. It is easy to surround yourself with people that say the things that you like to hear. It is much harder to listen to those who will challenge you and are prepared to question your direction of travel.

SSTA has represented its members by putting the views of its members to all levels within the education system. Unfortunately, some of the ‘home truths’ are not too easy to take. The SSTA is not walking away but wants to work with all parties to address teacher issues and find solutions.

For the sake of our children and our very good education system the Minister needs to listen to Secondary School Teachers he needs to listen to the SSTA.