Kevin Campbell, SSTA President - Address to the 74th Annual SSTA Congress

Colleagues, guests, friends and delegates from deepest, darkest Fife. I take great pleasure in welcoming you all to the 74th Congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association.


I find myself being captain of our great ship in a year through which we have sailed some pretty turbulent seas. It gives me great pleasure however, to be at the helm as our Association enters its 75th year of ensuring the voice of secondary teachers in Scotland is heard. And I can assure you that any meeting I’m at, my voice is certainly heard. The ship analogy is pertinent. It would not be the first time I’ve answered to the appellation “Foghorn” not only that but it’s usually accompanied with “Leghorn”.  I must admit I do share many features with the rooster of Loony Toons fame. I bluster and criticise, am arrogant and conceited and I am not very smart. Or that’s what my Heidy has said anyway!


Anyhoo. My first year as President has been very interesting indeed. I have attended many types of meetings and enjoyed the company of many hiheidyins that the garden variety common teacher rarely has the chance to. Not only do I have the pleasure of regular-ish meetings with the esteemed minister for education but I’ve also had the chance to meet many other VIPs from the educational milieu, including many colleagues from our sister unions in Ireland, England, Europe and from across the world. I enjoy regular meetings with luminaries such as Ken Muir, Janet Brown and various different colleagues from Education Scotland (they never send the same person twice as then there maybe be a danger they’d come up with some consistency) Although in all seriousness, having the chance to parley with so many makers and players in education has allowed me to learn a great deal about the workings of the system and how to better convey the views of our members within it.


At this juncture I’d better take the opportunity to ensure all delegates here today that at every single meeting I attend, the general secretary, Mr Seamus Searson does his utmost to ensure that I’m not allowed to speak too much, just in case. Most people that know me know I like the occasional nonsensical rant that generally ends up with lots of people being condemned to firing squads.  Conversely however, I can say that on every single occasion Seamus represents this Association, he does so to a singularly high degree. I witness regularly this man’s ability to infuse his arguments with clarity, wit, intelligence and charm. That is when people are listening to him, mostly they’re trying to figure out if he’s Irish, Scottish or English, what with his name, accent, home location and country of work. All that aside, be very satisfied that Seamus is doing an excellent job as our general secretary!


Be assured colleagues, what with being President, District secretary of Fife and a member of Council with the GTCs,  I have had to work quite hard and have had quite a stressful time over the past few months, for as I previously  alluded, we are sailing some pretty choppy waters.


Colleagues you will no doubt have noticed that our battle cry this year, emblazoned on the podium, is a re- working of the three R’s.  Retention-Recruitment-Restoration. These three words will be of critical importance as we enter our 75th year.  As such most of the Association’s coming work will revolve around these issues. I shall expand-


It is not an exaggeration to say that as teachers you play a crucial role in the creation of an environment in which the children of Scotland can strive to achieve their full potential.


As teachers we play an incalculably important role in the lives of our young people. Not only do we provide the building blocks for our pupil’s need for academic stimulation and achievement but also the guidance gathered from our life experiences that can help youngsters become full and active members of our society. (However, we will all be aware that the teenager who listens to their teachers’ pearls of wisdom is a rare beast, actions must speak louder than words if we are to truly guide our youngsters down a wise path) For me full and active participation in our society is of equal if not more importance than academic achievement.  Surely our job as teachers is to help produce young people who can fully contribute socially, as well as intellectually, all that they have to offer to their communities. In order to do this colleagues, we need our working conditions to be conducive to the upkeep of our sanity.


The first objective of any school must be to keep the experience and expertise that it already has. Nothing can be built on nothing. Teachers are continually put in unacceptably stressful conditions. Workload continues to increase unabated. The Scottish Government and at their behest,  SQA and Education Scotland  seem to have no cognisance of just how much a teacher can cope with. Since the early to mid-2000’s and the move up the gears to a new way of delivering education in Scotland, the degree of change in our National Curriculum has been unmanageable. Since the introduction of the National Qualifications, teachers’ workload has risen and risen. Never ending changes and re-writes just make matters worse. The Government’s refusal to listen to reason and slow the pace of change is inscrutable. How valued can a teacher feel, when as the professional at the chalk face, your opinion isn’t even asked for but instead you are told how these things should work by an “International” expert! Come on Mr Swinney, listen to us when we say “slow down!”


People, these changes lead to never ending changes to course content, assessment provisions, inspection regimes, course development, ever increasing demands of PRD and ever changing models for tracking and monitoring.  The sum of this is that teachers are leaving the profession.


And then colleagues, there is one of the central issues producing stress for teachers right now. This issue is severely affecting retention, and through anecdotal horror stories from within schools, recruitment too.  In my opinion behaviour and relationships in our schools has reached an all-time low. The causes of this ever burgeoning issue are manifold but for me, chief amongst them is deprivation. Colleagues we should, as human beings, be ashamed of the levels of poverty that exist in this country. We all see it every day, a lot of us grew up with it lurking over us. The burden of this poverty can be an intolerable weight for children to manage. Some of our pupils are growing up in environments where what happens at school is literally the last thing that is important in their lives. Just the stress of not being able to eat decent food, keep warm and find clothes to wear that aren’t filthy or in rags would cripple most adults let alone a child. Parents in this environment are no better equipped to deal with this pressure. A huge number cannot cope with the demands our education system places on their offspring. Communities living with poverty do not engage with schools. How then do we resolve the issues their kids experience when under our tutelage? In the community where I myself work, people are beset with issues with drugs, alcohol and violence. This, of course, diffuses into the school, which is a microcosm of that community. Every day, at work I see the consequences. Pupils are extreme in their disrespect for staff and each other, there are severe issues with drugs, and many pupils are unable to control their violence. Staff are unable to cope, learning and teaching is way from being top of the agenda.  Now I know that where I work is not how it is everywhere. My school is in an area with multiple deprivation indicators but, this is an issue which is effecting more and more schools. Even in schools with kids from mixed social backgrounds, issues can spread and effect everyone within that environment when certain behaviours are accepted and unchallenged.  The consequences of poverty are exacerbated by never ending cycles of budget cuts, support services such as Specialised Pupil Support, i.e. behaviour, sense impairment and English as a second language are virtually non-existent.  PSA numbers are decreasing across the country. Specialised schools are a thing of the past. The latter is often justified in the name of Inclusion. Now, no one can philosophically challenge the merits of Inclusion. As an idea in a fair and democratic society, it is absolutely right. My issue with Inclusion is firmly in the context of underfunded schools, facing ever deeper cuts, serving our poorer catchment areas. Colleagues, our comrades south of the border in the National Union of Teachers commissioned the education faculty at no less a university than the University of Cambridge to research “The Cost of Inclusion” in mainstream schools. Their conclusions are many, and have, as you would absolutely expect, found positives for children who are “Included” but many of their findings also show how Inclusion in the context of poorly funded schools, in poverty affected communities, has a negative effect. For instance:   “In disadvantaged areas where a school may have over half its pupils classified as ‘special needs’ … strategies which may work in more stable situations do not apply.  Here the critical ‘balance’ shifts so as to make effective teaching nigh on impossible.  It is only with exceptional dedication and resilience that teachers cope with the turbulence and unpredictability of day-to-day life.  It is in these circumstances that lack of resources and insufficient expertise hit hardest.”    This is exactly the situation in my school! Another quote:


“Provision of appropriate resources could go a long way to meeting needs but in almost all primary and secondary schools increasing demands are not matched by resources, in terms of staffing as well as classroom materials and equipment.”

Colleagues, the report also points out, in detail how the lack of proper and extensive CPD leads to teachers being unable to cope with the demands of the pupils or with the accompanying workload.


It goes on to lay out the effects on the kids themselves. They feel marginalised by poor academic performance in a system which is not designed to meet their needs, this in turn results in frustration and poor behaviour. The parents don’t receive the help they need to properly understand their child’s condition, we don’t receive the training we need in order to understand and mitigate it either!  Exclusion statistics show that a disproportionate number of excluded children have SEN requirements.


The Government’s solution?  The Pupil Equity Fund. Mooted as the way to close the poverty induced “gap” between highest and poorest achieving. It does not nearly come close to even thinking about addressing the consequences of poverty in terms of attainment.  Instead it is becoming a bureaucratic headache for our Heads and for teachers, who can expect to be harangued and harassed by HMIE over its effectiveness, or lack of. It has opened the door to Free Marketeering in our schools, with various “experts” and “interest groups” vying to secure a share of the money. Comrades, we are the experts! To do our job right we need proper funding in our schools, we need time to teach, we need resources and experts to cater for the complex and diverse issues our children can suffer. We as teachers need easily accessed and appropriate CPD.  We need appropriate equipment to teach our specialist subjects.  We need colleagues in school offices and PSA’s in class rooms and colleagues we need safe and secure facilities, owned and operated by organisations that are accountable to the electorate.  No More PPP, ever!


There are direct links between poverty, attainment and behaviour. We need the Government to tackle these issues directly! We need resources to rebuilt communities: - people with jobs have dignity and self-respect. They raise children who are more able to engage at school, better engaged children respect teachers and their authority to teach- simples!


In the short term we need management teams and local authorities to develop the will to deal with the most disruptive pupils and with parents who simply won’t engage with the school. The levels of disruption in classrooms cannot be allowed to continue. We cannot continue to be lectured about the “right” to an education. Not when it takes away another’s right to an education or our right to deliver that education. With rights come responsibilities. You need to be responsible for your own behaviour. We create an illusion in our schools. The illusion of a society where you don’t have to answer for your actions. Actions have consequences. Our young people need to learn this. We are abrogating our responsibility to our charges when we allow them to think that they can behave in any manner they wish and that it won’t have negative effects for them, it will! Managers need to learn that they can’t just tell a pupil to apologise and that’s the situation “restored”. It’s not. Kids have to understand why what they did was wrong and why they shouldn’t do it. They should want NOT to do it! And if I hear “How did your behaviour effect the situation?” again, I may lose my mind! It’s not my fault that our schools are underfunded and don’t have the resources to support our highest tariff pupils. To help schools deal with this LA’s need to provide resources so we can create real alternatives to exclusion. That means qualified, trained and experienced staff. We need a national framework which sets out clear expectations of behaviour and how to manage it effectively and how to record it when it goes wrong. We need to end the culture of “No Consequences” and introduce a culture of respect! To some this may sound reactionary. It is not. It is about protecting the dignity of the majority of pupils and our members at their work -  simples!

Colleagues, I mentioned having time to teach a moment ago. We are all aware of the ongoing problems the lack of fully staffed schools create. If a teacher is to be able to create inspirational, engaging and meaningful lessons, they require time. If your time is consumed by endlessly covering vacancies or long term absences so that you are down to the minimum non-contact time, this becomes impossible. If a pupil doesn’t have a regular teacher, with whom they can build positive, trusting relationships or are in the hall with a member of SMT and 200 other kids, they are not working in an environment where learning and teaching is as good as it can be. The lack of time for preparation, marking and collegiate creativity processes created by the lack of teachers in our schools generates stress. The OECD already identifies Scottish teachers as being amongst the teachers with the highest contact times. This needs to change now! In a job where stress lurks around every corner we must mitigate the causes where we can, always.  Colleagues, we need more teachers!


Since the crash of 2008 the people of Britain have shouldered the cost of the deliberate actions of a tiny minority of reckless bankers, capitalists at their greediest! Prior to this teachers’ pay and conditions were moderately improving. Since that date however there has been a sustained ideologically motivated attack on not just teacher’s pay and conditions but on all those who choose to work for the betterment of society in the Public Service. Over the last decade and a half unpromoted teachers’ pay has fallen by approximately 16%. It is no wonder recruitment and retention are the vexing issues that they are.


If you are a graduate just leaving university and you’re considering your options, why would you choose teaching? Well, quite honestly there isn’t much to convince you! Fair enough, if you’re looking for even more debt, you can accrue another years’ worth of student loans to pay off over the next thirty years.  You can try and scrape together the cost of accommodation, rents around Scotland are pretty reasonable- NOT!  Thanks to the GTC and the providers of Initial Teacher Education, you can be expected to travel an hour and a half to get to school placements, no bother. You’ve just left uni, you’ve got a car and plenty of dosh to splash out on fuel. What? You’ve not got a car? Don’t worry our public transport is second to none! You don’t live in a city? Eh well, no public transport then….. That’s your problem! Once in school you have all the support networks you need, except, the teachers in the school are up to their eyebrows in their own workload and are stressed out of their minds, they’ve not got time to share their experience or support you. But you’ve got a mentor! Well you may but are they going to have the dedicated time in which to support you? Maybe, maybe not. What about support from your Uni tutors? Well they do the best they can but there aren’t enough to cover the whole country or the numbers of students adequately. It’s not good enough! Not by a long shot! If we want to encourage people into teaching, we need to make it easier for them, we need to pay their costs, we need to subsidise accommodation and transport- We need to pay them! They need proper support. That means we need time, in school, to nurture them, help them, develop their strengths and share our experience. Now you’d be forgiven at this juncture for thinking “Oh isn’t that what that TeachFirst mob are all about?” No its not! The best thing about our Teacher Training model is that we have exacting standards. The higher, the better! TeachFirst are about taking unqualified people, both in academic and in some cases personal terms and placing them directly in front of kids without prior experience or understanding of the basic philosophy of how to do it! This is wrong! Our students need the basis a PGDE gives them. This is attested to by the outrageous rates of attrition suffered by TeachFirst students. On top of this, in England it costs more taxpayers money to train a teacher using TeachFirst than funding a PGDE, with higher rates of TeachFirst students leaving the profession within 5 years! No way! The Government has made moves on introducing salaried PGDE courses in some subjects and geographical locations. It needs to be rolled out across the country, NOW!


Taking it back a bit, you’re a graduate again, you’re considering your options. Your pal has just got a job with a telecommunications company starting on 30K a year, rising every year thereafter. You’re other pal has gone into computer programming, he’s looking at earning twice what your other pal gets. You’re thinking about teaching, you’re looking at starting on 21K, after another year at uni mind,  going up eventually to 35. Is it really that much of a prospect? The market place for many graduates is very competitive. It is still absolutely the case that with a degree your chances of earning a much higher than average income are very good. Why would you settle for £35000? Would you Mr. Swinney?


Colleagues, this isn’t only a conundrum for prospective teachers. I can personally attest that it is difficult to make my wage last till payday. If I didn’t have a degree in Ecology, I’d have to seriously think about another job. 35K! Five years at uni and fifteen years’ experience and, I can hardly pay my bills. For the stress, the workload and the constant updating of skills; the physical and mental drainage of doing the job. Is that all we are worth? Judging by the numbers fleeing the profession and the problems recruiting new blood, I’d say many people think it’s simply not enough!


Our employers’ solution is to offer an insulting and divisive 3% to everyone up to point 6 on the main grade and 2% to teachers on point 6.  I think not! We need restoration! We need 10%! And the thing is, that only takes us to where we should have been!


Colleagues, I need to be clear here: It looks to me to be the case, that if we want this 10%, we‘re going to need to be prepared to fight for it!


Comrades, it would be wrong to contest, and we have always said this, that a teacher’s working conditions are a pupil’s learning conditions. If we are to ensure that every child in this country has the best possible opportunity to succeed then it is a teacher’s, and more importantly our governments, obligation to ensure they have the best of learning environments. It is essential therefore, that we do all that we can to persuade all those who do not value education as we do and our role within it, that being a teacher should be a job that only the best and most able amongst us aspire to.


We need the Scottish Government and Cosla to stop messing about and make a real effort to address the issues harassing our profession, only then will people be attracted to and want to remain working with our most precious resource, our children, in our classrooms.


Thank You.

Report of the General Secretary - Congress 2017 #SSTA17

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

The theme of our Congress is ‘Put pupils first – give teachers time to teach!’

This is what SSTA members stood together and pushed for in our struggle against teacher and pupil workload in our ballot in the autumn of 2016.

An excellent return in the ballot with a 91% vote in favour of taking ‘Action Short of Strike Action’ with a 40.8% turnout. This was not an easy decision for SSTA members to take. I am proud to say, their pupils and their pride in education is always their priority.

Why do teachers drag themselves into schools when they are unwell, put up with poor wages, lack of a professional career structure, teacher shortages, work long hours, endure ever decreasing support and resources, put their health, families and relationships at risk?

I will tell you why? Because teachers care and despite all the changes, new initiatives and whims of politicians, teachers try to make it work for the benefit of the pupils in their classrooms, because they only get one chance.

So I say congratulations to you for sticking together and challenging the pressures applied to you by supporting our industrial action. The battle is not over and there is a good distance to cover. But we will succeed because we have to. If we don’t, we would be failing the pupils we care for most and our cherished education service.

The way teachers are treated is nothing less than systematic abuse. Unfortunately, this is not confined to Scotland but is a similar picture for teachers across the world. We need to bring to an end to this teacher abuse and ensure that teachers are valued and rewarded for the important role that they play in the lives of our young people.

The First Minister has pledged to put education at the heart of her government's programme for the year ahead.

"Education is at the heart of our plans and I am committed to doing all I can to improve the life chances of every child and young person.

"Ensuring children are able to learn in new, modern, fit for purpose surroundings is a crucial part of this.

"By the end of this parliament we will have delivered 112 new or refurbished schools across every local authority in Scotland - more than double the number envisaged when the schools for the future programme started."

But without a valued professional teacher in every classroom, and without education support staff and resources, her best intentions cannot and will not be delivered. Whether the First minister likes it or not the teacher in the classroom is the first and most important education resource.


Teacher Workload

The SSTA industrial action began on 24 October 2016to give teachers back control of their time and we needed the ballot to give security to our members in schools. 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. More and more of our members are saying NO or more politely ‘thank you very much for your kind offer of more work but I will decline the offer on this occasion’.

The SSTA has campaigned for a number of years to reduce teacher workload in all aspects of a teacher’s work but especially in the senior phase. The SSTA asked for a more measured implementation of the new national qualifications but the government moved forward regardless.

It came as no surprise to SSTA members that the accountability and micromanagement systems contained within the National Qualifications forced teachers and pupils to breaking point.

However, there is no satisfaction in knowing you were right all along. It is so important to listen to the teachers in the classroom, not to give importance to the views of those not involved in the ‘day to day’ business of teaching. Those who actually do the job. The SSTA represents the views of teachers at all levels in secondary schools and should be listened to.

The Deputy First Minister said last year 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”-

The SSTA survey on National 5 changes, conducted in early February highlighted the increases in workload across all subjects. Teachers were told to expect changes to Assessment arrangements but not to course content. As we all know the changes announced in the last few weeks will again increase workload with the courses in many school already begun, without time to consider and implement the changes.

Unfortunately, I can predict, with the rush to make changes we will find that the SSTA was right again but the powers that be do not always want to hear.

The Deputy First Minister told us at our Council meeting back in October that he wanted to reduce teacher workload and has taken steps to bring about change. But change in education, as we know, does take time and longer than the six months the Minister asked for.

As for other measures taken by the Deputy First Minister to reduce teacher workload

Education Scotland conducted a Local Authority Review on Tackling Workload and made a statement on Broad General Education.

Inspectors looked at: what support and guidance for schools and teachers the local authority had in place; what the local authority required schools and teachers to do; and any specific guidance the local authority had provided on how to reduce bureaucracy/workload. Some of our District Secretaries didn’t recognise their local authorities from the report.

The Deputy First Minister expected a positive response from SSTA but the SSTA Survey at the time showed 68% of SSTA members said the document would not have an impact in reducing teacher workload. A further 14% said the document would actually increase their workload. The over-riding view is that it would have little impact in Secondary Schools.

The inspection of Local Authorities needs to be followed-up with further action to be taken. I am not sure if that was ever intended. The review must not be just left on the shelf like other well-meaning documents.


Bench Marks

The Bench Marks for all curriculum areas were published in March. The lack of ‘meaningful consultation’ is a concern to us but they have been mostly welcomed by secondary teachers. However, the usual rule applies: ‘Just give it to teachers and they will make it work’. They have been rushed through without any time given for teachers and departments to be consulted with, or time to understand and implement into existing courses. Again, another good intended action but without a teacher workload assessment being undertaken.

Standardised Assessment

These tests for children in P1, P4, P7 and S3 will take place next year covering reading, writing and numeracy. The online tests will take 50 minutes, they will not be marked by teachers and there will be no pass or fail. The assessments will be completed online and automatically marked by the online system. The Scottish government said the information produced by the tests would help teachers raise attainment amongst schoolchildren.

Again training time for managing the tests and using the evidence produced has not been allocated and it will be left for the teacher to undertake in their own time.

It is interesting that this method of assessment together with the teachers professional judgment is sufficient for pupils up to S3 but not been considered for pupils in S4. Most pupils stay in education beyond S4 yet we persist with an archaic over burdensome, damaging to pupils and a totally unnecessary SQA system for pupils in S4. My advice to the Minister is to reduce teacher workload and pupil stress by finding a better way for continuous assessment in the senior phase.

The bottom line is that the SSTA industrial action guidance is quite clear: if you are not allocated time within the schools Working Time Agreement then the work cannot be done.

The teacher shortage

Teacher recruitment is an increasing problem across Scotland and will have a damaging impact on the students and teachers in the long-term. Teachers are ‘papering over the cracks’ and trying to keep the system afloat. All available teacher time is being used to continue the service. Many teachers with management and specialist roles in the school are being used to cover classes due to the lack of supply, particularly subject-specific supply. These teachers are being abused by the education system.

Our recent Survey of school reps showed

  • 81% of main scale teachers were being timetable up to the maximum 22.5 hours a week
  • 37% of principal Teachers were being timetabled between 20 and the maximum 22.5 hours a week
  • 41% of teachers were covering 3 hours or more a week
  • 67% of schools found it very difficult to get supply teachers

Measures used by schools to manage the teacher shortage

  • 28% of schools regularly split National Qualification classes with 44% occasionally
  • 21% of schools regularly collapsed classes with 40% doing so occasionally
  • 12% regularly left senior classes unsupervised with a further 30% doing so occasionally
  • 7% of schools regularly gathered classes together in a hall or sports hall with a further 25% doing so occasionally
  • 5% of teachers were regularly taking classes above timetable allocation with a further 33% doing so occasionally

The failure to provide supply teachers and fill vacancies promptly is often seen as an attempt by local authorities to save money. However, this is a false economy as when teacher workload increases; teacher stress increases, teacher absence also increases.

The GTCS found in 2016 there were 861 lapsed teachers aged 21-45. It sought reasons why teachers were leaving the register. The GTCS found

14.5% cited change in family circumstances

- Some teachers need to stop or reduce their work for a period of time, for example to care for children or elderly relatives, but this can be difficult to quantify and manage.  Few employers, if any, now offer teachers job share opportunities which were seen by many as a great way of working in a family friendly way.  Although many local authorities claim to be 'family friendly,' the reality is that it is much harder to work around an employer than a job share partner.  Working part-time can be a solution, but teachers I have spoken to tell me that even working 3 days a week results is what many would consider a full time job.

12% were taking a career break

- Although some employers offer career breaks on paper, often they can be reluctant to actually grant them in practice, particularly for promoted teachers.   I know of cases where the employer has asked those seeking career breaks to resign, which in my view is short sighted and lacking an understanding of the benefits a well-planned career break can bring to the teacher (eg time for reflection), to their pupils (eg enhanced experience), to colleagues (eg opportunities for temporary promotion) and to the employer (eg opportunities for staff development).

10.4% cited high workloads

- Workload is widely regarded to be at an unsustainable level and is impacting on the mental health and wellbeing of the whole school community.  Some teachers are unwilling to continue to put their health at risk.

12% had changed career

- Teachers have wide-ranging skills and good qualifications which are relevant to many careers as well as education.  In some cases they are choosing to use their skills and qualifications elsewhere.

12.9% were unable to secure a job in Scotland

- Being on a supply register for an extended period or on a temporary contract can present budgeting difficulties and can make it hard to arrange loans and mortgages.   Despite being qualified to teach, it is understandable that some teachers prefer to find non-teaching employment which offers regular pay and career progression rather than hanging about waiting for a teaching job.

13.2% had gone to teach abroad

- Some teachers are attracted to better salaries and working conditions on offer in other countries.  Working abroad offers a different perspective and opens up different opportunities. Often to raise a deposit for a home back in Scotland.

5% had decided teaching wasn't for them.

- It is inevitable that some people will not find teaching to their liking.  Teaching is a bit like being a performer for several hours a day with a very critical audience which does not hesitate to make its feelings known.  There are other jobs which have different demands.


The Teacher is the key to Scotland’s Future

The Scottish Government is determined to bring about improvements in Education by ‘closing the attainment gap’ and give all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential. The focus must be on the teacher/pupil relationship and how the structures in and outside the school are developed to support this relationship is an important element in ‘closing the attainment gap’.

The Teacher in the Classroom

The subject teacher in a secondary school focuses on establishing the relationship with the pupils. Whilst planning, preparing, delivering and assessing the lesson the teacher also assesses the pupil progress and identifies strengths and weaknesses. The teacher uses their professional judgement and builds on this knowledge in future lessons.

  • We need teachers to focus on teaching and learning with a reduction of other tasks
  • With the demands placed on teachers today we need a reduction in the 22.5 hours teaching week
  • With the nature of our curriculum and changes to methods of teaching more subjects need to be recognised as ‘practical’ and in turn benefit pupils by being in smaller classes

The Subject Specialist

The Principal Teacher of subject in the past was a great strength of the Scottish Education system. Unfortunately, due to changes in schools’ management structures over a number of years, the Principal Teacher of subject has been in steady decline. Most schools today do not have a teacher in the school responsible for keeping abreast of subject developments and acting as the leader and manager of a number of subject teachers.

It is unreasonable to expect all subject teachers in a large department, at the same level, to accept responsibility and carry out this function independently. To develop the subject expertise, encourage leadership and rationalise workload there is a need to see a return to the subject specialist in secondary schools. Please also note that in 2010 the Chartered Teacher scale was brought to a close.

  • We need recognition and reward of experienced teacher of subjects and a real and meaningful extension to the existing teacher main pay scale

The Management Structure

There has been a conscious move in many local authorities to move away from principal teacher of subjects to a faculty structure across the school. The appointment of a senior principal teacher to manage a number of subjects is a sensible way forward and gives the teacher a more senior responsibility. This experience enables the post holder to progress to a more senior position in the school.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the teacher, in addition to managing a number of departments, is given a range of ‘whole school’ responsibilities. The impact of these additional responsibilities moves the teacher further away from the departments they were appointed to manage, without the support of senior teacher of subjects.

In 2010 there were 8,216 promoted posts in secondary schools and in 2016 the number fell to 6,758, a loss of 1,458 posts or 18% of promoted posts.

At the same time the number of teachers in secondary schools fell from 24,776 to 22,957. That is a loss of 1,819 teaching posts.

As promoted teachers left a school the posts went with them. The only reason was to cut money and increase the workload of those left behind.

The reduced management structure has created a ‘major’ step from being a subject teacher to a principal teacher managing a number of subjects. This step is viewed by most teachers as a ‘step too far’. There are very few opportunities for teachers to gain experience to enable them to move into middle leadership positions. The main focus of the principal teacher who manages a number of subject areas is supporting teaching and learning in those areas.

As for teachers who undertake a range of ‘whole school responsibilities,’ these should be accommodated within a more senior position in the school and seen as a ‘stepping stone’ to gain knowledge and experience before aspiring to become a depute headteacher.

  • The priority of the principal teacher who manages a number of subject areas is supporting teaching and learning in those areas.
  • We need the establishment of management posts that manage a number of ‘whole school’ responsibilities
  • And crucially we demand that Depute and Headteachers have manageable, not unmanageable posts with appropriate additional support inside and outside the school.


The Teacher Retention and Recruitment Crisis

Scotland is facing a deepening crisis in retaining and recruiting teachers and headteachers in its schools. The Scottish Government needs to acknowledge that teachers working conditions and remuneration have failed to keep pace with the rapidly changing education environment. Schools and teachers needs to adapt to meet the demands of a modern education system.

As a consequence teaching is increasingly perceived as an unattractive profession with an impossible workload demand, restricted career path and an uncompetitive salary scale.  Addressing the structure of schools and its workforce are essential elements in the Scottish Government challenge to ‘close the attainment gap’.


The Teacher Career Structure

The removal of the Chartered Teacher scale (originally intended to keep good teachers in the classroom) has created a ‘glass ceiling’ that new teachers reach relatively quickly. There is little opportunity for advancement which is creating a problem in keeping and motivating these teachers in the profession.

The numbers of posts of responsibility have reduced by nearly 1:5 over six years this has closed down the opportunities for teachers to gain experience, responsibility, career advancement and incentives to remain in teaching.

The normal promotional ladder expects classroom teachers to become principal teacher managing a number of departments without any subject management experience. Once promoted to principal teacher, managing a number of departments, the next move is to the post of depute headteacher.

  • 38% of Principal Teachers were given between 2 and 3 hours management time per week with a further 18% being given no management time to undertake the responsibility
  • 21% of Depute Headteachers were being timetabled for 5 or more hours per week. Whilst 29% of Deputes had no timetabled teaching commitment
  • 24% of Headteachers had a timetabled up to 4 hours a week

The only other way to get promotion is through the pastoral and pupil support route but unfortunately this has limited posts of responsibility and increasingly unmanageable workload. An inappropriate Job Sizing Toolkit that does not recognise the remit of the job does not help.

The difficulties in recruiting new headteachers reflects the unmanageability of the post and the reluctance from experienced depute headteachers who have identified the scale of the problem.

  • A need for a career structure that gives opportunities to gain experience and responsibility across the education system that recognises the long-term commitment of the teacher


Teacher Salaries (the facts)

The salary scales for teachers and headteachers have become uncompetitive and do not recognise the value, commitment and importance of the teacher workforce in Scotland.

An unpromoted teacher at the top of the main scale has a salary of £35,763 (point 6). Due the removal of the Charter teacher scale the teacher could have reached a salary of £43,845 (a difference of £8,028).

An unpromoted teacher in England at the top of the upper pay spine has a salary of £38,250 (a difference of £2,487). An unpromoted FE Lecturer in Scotland, following the pay agreement, can reach a salary of  £40,026 (a difference of £4,263).

A headteacher in Scotland can aspire to a maximum salary of £86,319 whilst a headteacher in England outside of London can aspire to a maximum salary of £108,283 (a difference of £21,964). Are the jobs £21,964 different? Of course they are not

  • We need a salary scale that is competitive and crucially retains the teachers we have and also inspires recruits into teachers

The Governance Review

The Deputy First Minister has said he intends to move forward with reforms

The SSTA supports the Government’s determination to bring about improvements in Education by ‘closing the attainment gap’ and giving all young people the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

SSTA would argue for a process of review followed by improvements rather than major structural change. The SSTA believe that structural change only diverts energies and resources away from the main challenge of ‘closing the attainment gap’.

The Government has chosen to use its ‘Governance Review’ as the vehicle to look at the agencies and structures involved in education to ‘empower teachers, parents and communities to achieve excellence and equity in education’.

Unfortunately this review does not include the people and the structures in the school that support teaching and learning.

The SSTA believes that the Government needs to place the pupil/teacher relationship at the centre – this relationship and how we best support it is the paramount consideration. Structure is only important insofar as they support and nurture teaching and learning in the pupil/teacher relationship.

I will focus my comments on just three areas

1) Local Authorities

The Local Authority is the management arm of the education system. It is in the interest of the community that all young people reach their full potential. As the elected representative of the community that the Local Authority is the body that needs to play its role in supporting the learning taking place in schools and, where necessary, seek improvement. It is essential that local schools feel part of the community. The direction of the school should be determined by the community that is able to see the long term plan and benefits.

The Local Authority should be the focus for parents, colleges, universities and local employers to better support efforts to raise attainment of all young people. Schools alone are unable to see the complete picture and therefore must work in partnership with Local Authorities to meet the needs of all young people.

The Local Authorities have the ability to bring together all local services to support pupils and their families in their journey through school. The Local Authority should play an important part in removing burdens and obstacles from teachers and headteachers and allow them to exert all their energies on learning.

As there is a growing recruitment crisis for head teacher and deputy posts, further devolving of powers to headteachers is another burden on the professionals and will merely exacerbate the recruitment situation.  In some respect, this step would be regarded as adding to bureaucracy, rather than improving education outcomes for children and young people. The priority should be to identify those tasks that can be taken away from teachers and headteachers and undertaken more efficiently by those more suitable and qualified within the Local Authority.

Local Authorities should be bringing schools together by building upon the natural school clusters. This includes primary, secondary and colleges as well as schools within the same sector and across Local Authority boundaries with similar challenges. The Local Authority should be managing all education staff across the Authority building capacity and ensuring all young people in every school have access to the best experienced teachers and support systems.

Creating new education regions would just create more bureaucracy. This would undermine the role of the Local Authority by putting additional unwanted pressure, responsibility and bureaucracy on teachers and headteachers in schools.

Local Authorities have an important role in retaining, recruiting and managing all education staff. Decentralising these functions to the schools just adds more bureaucracy and takes the focus away from teaching and learning. Local authorities need to collaborate across Authority boundaries to ensure there are a sufficient number of teachers, headteachers and supply teachers in our schools.

The Local Authority needs to identify and create opportunities for all teachers to reach their full potential whether in the classroom or in management positions in schools. Good examples of collaboration would be a national supply teacher register, a joint recruitment strategy, developing leadership programmes, and a national professional development network for all education staff.

2) Education Scotland

Education Scotland should be the implementation arm of the Scottish Government.

Education Scotland should be the driving force for curriculum development and excellence. It should see itself as responsible and accountable for the delivery of the curriculum in every school. Education Scotland should not be independent of the schools and Local Authorities but working in partnership with and be responsible for the education in our schools.

The SSTA would recommend that the Inspectorate focus its efforts on Local Authorities rather than schools. Local Authorities should be the driving force for excellence in schools for all young people. The Inspectorate should seek naturally occurring evidence in the schools to support the work of the Local Authorities.

Local Authorities should be responsible for managing, challenging, supporting and developing schools. The Inspectorate focus on individual schools has created barriers to collaboration across schools and the sharing experiences and expertise that are to the detriment of the system.

3) Fair Funding or just spreading the existing money in different directions

The Government wishes to establish a fair and transparent needs-based funding formula for schools and make sure that more money goes direct to headteachers.

This issue is a constant headache as a formula based on Free School Meals alone cannot guarantee that the money goes where it’s needed. It would be far better to trust the judgement of the teachers, the professionals in the classrooms, to identify the need of every individual young person. The challenge would be for Government to meet this need with the appropriate resource.

Fair Funding or further delegation to schools can only work when ‘new’ money is made available. There will always be winners and losers in this type of reform and those you intend to benefit rarely do. New money is needed to give all young people the same life chances.

Education International has stated there is a need to establish, support and promote Global Guidelines for Establishing Teacher-led Professional Teaching Standards.

Education International asserted that enabling professional space and time for educators and educational support personnel is a precondition for the successful implementation of such a framework.

Education reforms need to be contextually relevant and, therefore, education policy dialogue needs to start at the classroom level with education unions at the centre as social partners. Administrators and bureaucrats should be prevented from taking the lead in identifying education policy issues and new solutions. Those who do the work on the ground - teachers and education support personnel - need to be empowered and actively involved before, during and after changes to education policies.

The recent criticisms of our education system by our politicians following the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) and Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) are unfair and unnecessary.

It is worth remembering that these tests were not constructed to assess pupil progress in our Curriculum for Excellence. Nor do they take into account all the changes that teachers and pupils have had to endure in the education system over a long number of years. Never mind years and years of austerity measures (Cuts and more Cuts) to our schools and communities.

It is the responsibility of and the duty of our Government and politicians to defend our excellent education system and find solutions to the challenges we face together.

A message to our politicians. Please stop using education as a political football and using it as a way of scoring points against each other. It is unforgivable. Education is too important to play political games with and you do more damage to education and its image every time you run-down education.

Every time you run down and undermine education another young person chooses not to follow a career path into teaching and another group of teachers’ walks out the school gate.

It is now time for Government to invest in its teaching workforce. Not just by providing professional learning opportunities. Now is the time is to end austerity measures. Austerity policies are a political choice to reduce public services. It is time to move away the austerity mentality and invest in Education, invest in teachers, invest in Scotland’s young people and Scotland’s future.

It is time to Put Pupils First and Give Teachers Time to Teach



Further information from:

Seamus Searson
General Secretary


Presidential Address, SSTA Congress 2017 #SSTA17


Presidential Address, SSTA Congress 2017
Crieff Hydro, Friday 19 May 2017

Welcome once again to our annual Congress.  One of the great pleasures for me at Congress is the way in which the Association comes together from all over the country.  It’s our opportunity to collaborate and find ways of moving Scottish education forward, and we are fortunate in having guests from a number of professional associations and other educational organisations here with us today.  As my term of presidential office draws to a close, once again I’d like to thank my employer North Ayrshire Council and my school Kilwinning Academy for their support in this leadership role, the General Secretary Seamus Searson and all of the Association staff for their help, and of course my wife Louisa and our family for their encouragement and support.

Sometimes you hear people say, “The apple never falls far from the tree.”  That’s certainly true in my case; both my grandfathers were a secondary teachers in Glasgow, one was Laurie Gardner, the other Alf Duncan, both totally committed to their students, both passionate about what they did.  I’ll tell you a bit more about Grandpa Alf Duncan later because his story is part of the SSTA story.

One of the first things you see when you enter the SSTA offices is a certificate from the Lord Lyon King of Arms granting the Association the right to use the heraldic arms, the Association crest.

That same certificate also contains the aims of our Association:

  • To advance education in Scotland
  • To safeguard and promote the interests of Scottish secondary teachers in all matters, especially those which affect salaries and conditions of service.

When Congress meets, it does so to reflect on those aims: to advance education, and to safeguard and promote Secondary teachers’ professional interests.  Our debates today and tomorrow, and what we hear from our guests and discuss with them, are about moving forward and improving education for young people.  The expertise and energy of teachers is the beating heart of Scottish education.  Without a dynamic and specialist teaching profession nothing can be improved, the young workforce cannot be developed, it would be impossible to raise attainment.

Today I will speak about getting it right for every child, the need for time to do this, and the value of good leadership.

Education is a creative force which has never stood still and will never stand still.  Educators are getting it right for every child by being innovators, serving young people by keeping pace with the rapid societal and economic changes. This is a good thing, but it needs to be managed in a well-led sustainable way.  The world is changing: people’s social anchors are moving (think of the growth and influence of social media), climate change is happening (any news to the contrary is fake), and global populations are ageing.  Teaching is becoming harder.

Recent news headlines have told us stories of global fragmentation and destabilisation.  The world has grappled with the issue of those fleeing war and persecution.  In places education has come under attack and those responsible for bringing youngsters to a mature understanding of the world have been increasingly undervalued in the face of austerity.

The days of a job for life have gone.  Researchers predict that today’s young people may have as many as 12 to 15 jobs in a lifetime.  The Institute for Public Policy Research this month published the Scotland Skills 2030 report, stating that nearly half of Scottish jobs could be automated in less than 15 years.  The foundations of deep learning and the ability to transfer skills are more important now than ever before.

Our role as educators is to ensure young people have the competencies they need for life.  More than ever we work tirelessly to move them beyond the simple ability to pass an exam and to ensure that they have the right foundations for lifelong learning .

In spite of, or perhaps because of the austerity agenda, groups of teachers have worked together to seek stability, to foster equitable approaches to education for all, and to emphasise the need for an energetic expert workforce.  The voice of teachers, through the democratic processes of their unions, must rise above the din of political whim and spin to be heard clearly.  We must hold up a hand and count to three until we are heard.

One of my duties at the end of last year was to attend a brilliant conference on Refugee Education organised by Education International in Stockholm where a landmark museum caught my imagination and offered some interesting lessons.   Prior to catching my flight home I had a couple of hours to spare, and rather than the ABBA experience I decided to see the Vasa museum.  Now situated by the harbour, the Vasa was a warship built on the orders of the King of Sweden in the late 1620s.  The King of Sweden wanted the ship to symbolize his personal and national ambitions and commissioned a ship, the design of which was completely new.    Using money from private enterprise the King wanted the ship to have not one but two gun decks.  The King himself chose really big and heavy bronze cannons.

The result was a fantastic looking ship which was dangerously unstable and top heavy.  There was simply too much weight in the upper part of the hull and insufficient ballast.  None of the King’s subordinates had the courage to tell him that his design was flawed.  Rather than postponing, the ship set out on its maiden voyage on 10 August 1628.   Less than a mile from the dock it capsized under a slight gust of wind, taking with it around 40 people’s lives.  It lay at the bottom of the Baltic for another 333 years before being raised and brought back to dock to stand as a salutary and tragic lesson to all who desire to innovate without advice.

What did I take from this? Four things.

Firstly, beware of politicians.  When it comes to education, we the educators are the ballast, we are the real experts, not politicians.  Because the SSTA is non-political, not aligned with any party, we are free to comment on the policies of every and any political party.  If the politicians don’t hear from the experts they court disaster.  Politicians have a duty to listen, we have a duty to make our voices heard.  With a General Election only days away, our votes will matter. Take a close look at the education section of each party’s manifesto and ask yourself: What are the educational aims of this party? How will they affect me and the youngsters I teach?  Is this about education or political ideology?  Two weeks ago I heard one of the Government’s Senior International Advisers, Andy Hargreaves, speaking.  He didn’t mince his words, stating, “England is now a policy vacuum. No character, no focus, no sense of what England’s citizens, its young people should become. Just markets, academies, grammar schools. Choice, fracturing, segregation. More of the inequalities that separate each of us from all the others around us. More intersecting identities less interacting identities.”  What do we want for education in Scotland?  Certainly not a business-driven model, defunded and starved of resources, putting profit before pupils.

Secondly, the captain of the Vasa knew it wasn’t seaworthy; in fact as part of a test of seaworthiness he had the crew run back and forth across the deck to show one of the King’s Vice-Admirals that the boat was unsafe.  The test was stopped early because they feared the ship might capsize right there and then on the harbourside!  The Vice-Admiral had no desire to tell the King that his pet project was quite literally full of holes.  Institutional factors can prevent good decisions from being made and sometimes it is important to be prepared to re-evaluate a high profile project.  We are waiting for an announcement on the Governance Review.  When the Government’s ideas appear, we need to be ready to ask,

  • Will this result in a reduction in teachers’ autonomy?
  • What effect will it have on workload?
  • Is there a possibility that teacher unions may be edged out in policy development?
  • Will those responsible for running education have a high level of expertise and understanding? and
  • Will it benefit teaching and learning?

Thirdly, it is vitally important to test new ideas carefully before rolling them out on a grand scale.  How many false starts have we experienced because no small-scale testing has been carried out?  With all the changes that have been taking place in National 5 exams, how certain can we be that they are ready to roll?  Or is there a risk that they may roll too far…?!

Fourthly, it’s ok to fail sometimes, and we need to learn from mistakes.  There needs to be an expectation that things will go wrong sometimes, but if mistakes are likely to have life-changing (or even life-ending) consequences, and perhaps be remembered for centuries, it’s probably safer to try and get it right from the get-go.  And sometimes it is better to turn back than to get lost!

So the tragedy of the Vasa teaches us:

  • Listening to experts is important
  • Institutional factors can prevent good decisions from being made
  • Test new ideas carefully
  • Learn from mistakes, try and get it right before you set off.

Getting education right for every child means you need to recruit, retain and reward the right people to be teachers.  Professional learning has to be given priority, not as an evening or weekend activity when teachers are tired and may have other responsibilities, but as part of their working week.

In 2001 we saw some very positive steps in this direction: the McCrone report, TP21, introduced a new career structure (including Chartered Teacher), improved conditions of service, restored pay, and introduced opportunities for better professional development and support, and new negotiating arrangements.   In doing so it paved the way for A Curriculum for Excellence, conceived in 2004 and implemented from 2010 onwards.  At first teachers expressed concern about the vagueness of the new curriculum, and many teachers expressed concern about the lack of clarity in terms of classroom expectations and assessment of pupils’ progress and attainment.  However, most teachers also believed that the principles underlying the new curriculum were valuable.  Who could disagree with the idea of a nation of confident learners, responsible citizens, effective contributors and successful learners?  But one of the problems with ACfE, or CfE as it later became known, was that secondary teachers had absolutely no idea of what the final assessment would look like for school leavers.

By 2011 Chartered Teacher was no longer on offer, despite the fact that it had been seen internationally as an excellent opportunity to raise teacher status, to enhance teaching and learning, and to support young people in achieving their potential.  Following a drastic and ill-considered cut to supply teachers’ pay there was a real teacher shortage making CPD more inaccessible, pension costs were increasing, the pay restoration of McCrone was effectively being undone, and support staff were being cut left, right and centre.

Exam guidance and procedures arrived late, and requests to delay starting new exams in 2013/14 were refused – unless you were at school in East Renfrewshire.  The consequence of this was that we had a workload spike, the sharp end of which has now been poking teachers hard for nearly 5 years.  The late and untested introduction of the new exams led to an ‘unintended and unsustainable workload’  for teachers and pupils.  The exam system didn’t quite capsize in harbour, but it was only because every secondary teacher in Scotland was bailing as hard as they could to keep things afloat.

GIRFEC is not the sole responsibility of classroom teachers, everybody involved in education must contribute and this includes the SQA.

One of John Swinney’s first acts as Cabinet Secretary for Education was a commitment to ‘declutter the curriculum and strip away anything that creates unnecessary workload for teachers’.  This was welcomed by teachers, but lacked the kind of bite to make workload reduction a reality in schools.  The Education Scotland Workload Review discovered that, when it came to developing policies to get workload under control, around half of employers were still dragging their heels.  Cracks were being papered over with education authorities struggling to carry out their function through lack of resources.

Austerity has pushed education authorities away from fully resourced education departments into an attitude of ‘how little can you get away with spending?’  The Pupil Equity Fund has been a welcome recognition that schools need more resources to close the attainment gap, but it has brought into sharp relief all the cuts of recent years and added workload to school leaders.  Funding calculations need to be a bit more sophisticated than the rather outdated approach of free school meal entitlement.  We don’t need a quick fix, we need to be able to make long term strategic plans for closing the attainment gap and ensuring youngsters are ready for the time of their lives.

Another quick fix, the rush job which the SQA has been committed to, in terms of removing unit assessments from National 5 and rethinking National 4, runs the risk of lacking anything like enough time for proper implementation and the institutional factor that too much is at stake to pause and reflect now.  And we hope that the new CfE benchmarks will bring some clarity, but in the short term these will add further to teachers’ workload.  Remember the old saying, haste makes waste!

So I ask the question, as teachers, are we surviving or thriving?  Do we have the time to plan, teach, assess, and evaluate, and thereby get it right for every child?  I think those who are not educators sometimes imagine that teachers are only really working when they are engaged in class contact.  The reality is that what happens in the classroom is only the tip of the iceberg.  Buoying up that visible tip is a much larger unseen structure, a mass invisible to most but which includes everything else that makes good quality learning and teaching possible: planning the experiences, preparing resources, arranging the learning environment, knowing the pupils, thinking about how to assess the outcomes, maintaining current subject knowledge, reporting on progress, evaluating the quality of the learning, and so on.  Getting it right for every child means that a standardised approach isn’t good enough, and a personalised approach takes longer.  Put another way, it’s the difference between fast food and a la carte.

A few months ago I heard some new ways of describing ways to get teachers to work for free: you can now include ‘added discretional value,’ ‘discretionary energy,’ and ‘functional flexibility’ on your buzzword bingo list.  Teachers go way beyond their contractual obligations to nurture youngsters and give their time freely to close the attainment gap but little of this work is truly recognised as ‘part of the job’.  How many of us here recently led Easter schools, offered supported study before and after school and at lunchtime, mentored pupils at risk of underachievement, offered before and after school clubs, led and participated in evening events such as discos, concerts and shows, organised and supervised extracurricular trips, engaged in more marking and preparation than time allowed, prepared for inspections, carried out all the development work to enable us to teach, and met with colleagues in our own time?  And how many of us talk of just surviving through to the end of term…?

Despite the stress and work pressure, teachers have the lowest absence rates of any local authority employees and yet how many of us find ourselves subject to draconian absence management policies? How many of us have been refused things like compassionate leave and time for moving house, weddings and funerals? In what way are teachers nurtured?  Developing the young workforce is a key government strategy, but are teachers’ employers setting a good example?

As teachers we want to do a good job, we want our pupils to succeed, we want to be happy where we work with minimal stress.  We want to close the attainment gap, we want to give everyone the best start in life.  The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, reporting on international samples of 15 year olds’ performance in Maths, Science and reading every three years, was published in November.  In the PISA report 2015 Scotland’s performance had slipped, and this was seen as a big concern by some politicians who only looked at the unhelpful country rankings.  Now, it has been suggested that the PISA tower is leaning – there have been criticisms of its tests, criticism of how pupils to be tested are chosen in some countries, and criticisms of its use of statistical techniques to create country rankings.  Any educator will tell you that an over-reliance on standard tests narrows learning down to what can easily be measured.    But one of the unsung successes of the PISA report, and I think one which must surely be above criticism, was the way it highlighted the very positive and supportive relationships teachers in Scotland have with learners.

Politicians are fond of OECD statistics.  One of the reasons we are about to experience big data collection in the form of standardised assessment is the OECD Scotland report.  But let me quote from the OECD’s 2014 Education at a Glance Indicators:

“A teacher of general subjects in upper secondary education has an average teaching load of 655 hours per year. Teaching time exceeds 800 hours in only six countries: Argentina, Australia, Chile, Mexico, the United States, and Scotland.”

When it comes to teaching time, at fifth-highest we are a world leader!  Not something to be proud of.

If the Cabinet Secretary for Education is serious about improving education, he needs to give teachers time to teach so that we can keep putting pupils first.  This is not about lengthy statements from Education Scotland or long improvement documents, it is about reducing the amount of teacher class-contact time to allow teachers to carry out the vital tasks that keep afloat the success of that learning time for every child.  The constant outflow of words from Education Scotland needs to be stiffly translated into time to enable every educator to work smartly, effectively and rightly for every child.  Teachers are looking for assistance, not advice.

Where in the past the dominie ruled the classroom with a belt and a stare, we have come to the realisation that it takes a whole village to educate a child.  This ‘Team Around the Child’ extends far beyond the school into the homes of the youngsters we teach, into health, into social services, into colleges, universities and employers.  Giving the team direction takes time and well trained leadership.  For example, the challenge of engaging parents is not new, but if we are to begin to ensure that they are able to have access to high quality clear information and time to understand issues then those who are paid members of the team also need time.  Building strong working relationships which enable valued family engagement is at the root of successful learning.  We need time to work with all the other people who want children to be successful learners.

Kai-Ming Cheng is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Hong Kong, and can be considered an expert.  He says, “When teachers are surviving, they are not focused on student learning” – in other words teachers need an achievable workload.  I know a number of teachers who have reduced their paid hours to part-time to enable them to do a full-time job.  There is evidence that many over-burdened teachers are struggling to maintain good mental health.  Our currently-running industrial action has focused on taking control of workload by empowering teachers to say no.  Workload is strangling innovation!  To thrive, what we really need is the time to say ‘yes!’  We want collaborative classrooms, collaborative staffrooms, collaborative schools and collaborative communities.  We want to say yes to innovation, yes to getting it right for every child, yes to parental engagement, yes to personal development, yes to developing the young workforce, yes to bold new methods of assessment.  We want to thrive, give us the time!

In their book ‘Flip the System,’ which I strongly recommend, Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber conclude that teachers need time to collaborate , build trust, assess their peers, innovate and construct a new language of education.’  In 2015 the OECD found that ‘Research… suggests that there are positive associations between both self-efficacy and job satisfaction and student achievement’.  In other words, the more fulfilled teachers are by their achievement and the more opportunities they have to collaborate, the better the quality of youngsters’ learning experiences.  Teachers feed on their pupils’ success!  But if they are constantly overburdened with tasks they know they will struggle to complete, teachers experience stress which inevitably transmits to the learners they are working with.  Remember, teachers’ working conditions are youngsters’ learning conditions!   Acknowledging the professionalism of teachers means that there needs to be adequate time to prepare, reflect and collaborate, and Evers and Kneyber suggest that, ‘spending more than 19 hours in front of a class per week seriously hampers the capacity to place teachers in the lead’. We want to teach, and we want the time to do it!

Finally, we need to offer good opportunities for leadership.  Getting it right for every child requires time and the effective use of that most precious resource, time, requires good leadership.  Effective, nurturing, leadership must be about good pruning and weeding to allow a few central ideas to blossom rather than allowing a thousand ideas to bloom.  Sometimes it feels like there are rather too many great ideas in education to really comprehend them all.  And rather than handing young people cut flowers, as teachers we are just really trying to teach them to cultivate their own plants.

The ADES Charter 2016 states:  "There is a growing challenge across Scotland in the recruitment of high quality teachers and headteachers. ADES sees this as one of the most immediate challenges facing Scottish education where teacher shortages and declining numbers of applicants for headteacher posts pose a major risk to the system.”  Ignoring the opportunity to develop the professionalism envisaged by McCrone in 2001, education authorities throughout Scotland have been stripping out Principal Teacher Curriculum, Depute Head, and even Headteacher posts in primary and secondary schools to save money, removing important planks of leadership and weakening the middle.  You can’t steer a ship without someone at the helm!

It is surely no coincidence that as opportunities for career progression have dwindled recruitment and retention have become more difficult.  There is plenty of evidence that almost all graduates are attracted by opportunities for career progression.  If teaching is perceived as offering only limited progression, or progression only for an elite few, then graduates will look elsewhere.  All teachers in every sector require a remarkable skillset and wide-ranging expertise to enable youngsters to succeed.  Although teaching might have been regarded as a lifelong career in the past, current teachers are now realising that their skills and expertise are transferable into other careers.  According to the recent teacher census there are about 730 unfilled teaching vacancies in Scotland.  The GTCS is investigating the loss from the registered teaching workforce of 861 teachers age 21-40.  This seems to be taking some education employers by surprise, and it seems hard to believe that offering headteachers more control will improve the situation. Pay and promotion opportunities are simply not keeping up.  In the battle for hearts and minds, Scotland’s teachers are warriors for learning.  Warriors need leaders.  Scotland’s future deserves a profession which will fight for them!

The flatter promotion structure which has drifted into place means that far fewer opportunities exist for skilled people to achieve promotion, and the steps to promotion are comparatively much larger now.  A few talented individuals may rise to the top helium-style, but for many other excellent practitioners the wind is taken out of their sails through lack of opportunity.  Where promotion turnover once refreshed and aerated schools, teachers move far less frequently.   Many teachers view senior leadership roles as having become over-demanding and at odds with work/life balance.

The SSTA is seeking to start the debate on how a few more rungs on the promotion ladder can be reintroduced, with the benefit that workload and leadership expertise will be more equitably shared and rewarded.  This is not about rewarding some teachers for narrow subject-specific knowledge.  It is about recruiting and retaining the right people and it is about getting the right spread of opportunities for properly paid, appropriately skilled and expertly knowledgeable leadership in place.  Then we can start making real progress on closing the attainment gap and developing a curriculum fit for Scotland’s future.

A jaded profession cannot sparkle.  The ship is wobbling.  If Scottish education is to retain its sheen it needs more than a bit of spit and polish, it’s time to enhance what we do.  We don’t need more rules and governance by top-heavy big guns.  Having asked the experts, teachers, what would make things work the way they should, it’s time for politicians to start listening.  We have had plenty of change in recent years, and what we really need now is time for reflection, time for consolidation, time to teach, time to lead, and the resources to do it well.

The SSTA continues to be the seasoned salt of Scottish education, playing a vital role in uniquely representing teachers in Scottish Secondary schools.  In 2019 we are looking forward to celebrating 75 years since the Association’s founding.  I am proud to say that, since this time last year, I have discovered that my grandfather, Alfred Duncan, was one of the early protagonists of the Association.  He was a teacher of Commerce first at Hillhead High then at Jordanhill College and was elected to be Glasgow Regional Secretary in 1945.   In the Merchants’ Hall, Edinburgh, on Saturday 24 November 1945 136 members attended a Special Meeting of Congress.  At that meeting my grandfather, as Glasgow Regional Secretary, opened the debate on whether the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association should secede from the EIS, that is, to become a Union in its own right and the rest is history.  My other grandpa Laurie was a member of the EIS all his life, but like the EIS and the SSTA today, Laurie and Alf got on pretty well most of the time!

I believe that the work of the Association is just as relevant and important now as it was when my grandfather spoke on behalf of Glasgow members in 1945.  One of the attractions of the SSTA to me has always been its nimbleness; we have a very focused approach and listen to our members carefully.  By focusing only on Secondary education we are able to support members by knowing each other well and by understanding the things which sometimes make our work difficult.   In my view no other association or group in Scotland gives secondary teachers a voice as effectively as the SSTA.

The people here in this room, the SSTA at large, we represent the activists who are working tirelessly to support our colleagues through casework and campaigns.  We are the ones organising and standing up for the rights of teachers and learners.  Our work has to be recognised and appreciated by employers, politicians, parents and young people.  When we go back to school next week, let’s take our shiny badges and wear them prominently with pride.  Make my grandpa the SSTA protagonist Alf Duncan proud, tell people, I am a member of the SSTA, I am an innovator, in my teaching I want to get it right for every child, I stand up for students and teachers in secondary education!  Give me the time!


For further information, please contact

Euan Duncan

Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association
West End House
14 West End Place
EH11 2ED

SSTA 73rd Annual Congress

The Association's 73rd Annual Congress will take place on Friday 19th & Saturday 20th May 2017 at Crieff Hydro.  You can find the Congress Agenda with includes the motions to be debated at

Updates from Congress will be posted on the SSTA website and via social media using hashtag #SSTA17.  Video of the Presidential Address, Report of the General Secretary, Key Note Speech and debates will be posted on the SSTA website when they become available.

SSTA Annual Congress 2016 #SSTA16 - Life Membership Awards

The Association awarded Past President's Alan McKenzie and Margaret Smith with their Life Membership scroll at this years Annual Congress at Crieff Hydro, Friday 20th May 2016.  Video of their testimonials and acceptance speeches can be viewed below.

SSTA Annual Congress 2016 #SSTA16

The Association held it’s 72nd Annual Congress on Friday 20 May and Saturday 21 May 2016 at Crieff Hydro.

This page will be updated with links to Reports and with video recordings of speeches and motions as they become available online.


Motions that were passed at Congress 2016 can be viewed here.


The Reports of the Committee's can be found on this page.

Euan Duncan's Presidential Address

Report of the General Secretary

Guest Speech from Professor John Visser, The University of Northampton

Ken Muir, GTCS Chief Executive address Congress and answers members questions.

Past President, Margaret Smith receives her Life Membership of the SSTA

Past President, Alan McKenzie receives his Life Membership of the SSTA

Congress 2016 - Report of the General Secretary #SSTA16

It is an honour and a privilege to be standing here and addressing you for the second time. I have watched, listened, and hopefully learnt a great deal about the Scottish Education system in the last year. What I do know is how important is the role that SSTA has in the future of Scottish Education.

The Scottish Government election is done and the ‘real’ work is to begin in terms of shaping the future of Education in Scotland. Scotland is at a crossroads and we need to make sure it takes the right path for our young people. Our Association must be part of that future and must be prepared to engage and work with all those who care about education in shaping education in Scotland.

‘Scotland has a good education system, with great schools and teachers. Our pupils are achieving record exam passes and a record number of young people are leaving school to go onto positive destinations’. This is not me saying this but the SNP Government in its manifesto. It goes on to say ‘but we need to do more – it is unacceptable that too many children from less advantaged areas achieve less at school because of their background. The SSTA agrees but we need to be involved in setting the direction.

There are still areas of the education system in Scotland that need to be addressed. The future government of Scotland needs to see teachers as part of the solution, and not part of the problem. The teacher in the classroom needs to be listened to and trusted to deliver the education system of the future.

We welcome the government’s commitment to protecting the Education Maintenance Allowance to help young people stay in education. We welcome the commitment to increase the number of students from deprived areas in Higher Education, and a place at university for all care leavers who meet basic requirements by supporting them with a full bursary. We also welcome a review of education provision for all 16 to 24 year olds so their learning provides more stepping stones to success for those needing most support.

However, we do have concerns with the governments proposed direction of travel in some areas. And to be fair we have not had the opportunity for discussion with the government on these yet. But I have not in the past year, heard teachers or their trade unions, clamouring for some of the proposals included within the manifesto.

We do agree the need to be prepared to tackle Child Poverty and educational underachievement. Every child needs to see education as the way forward and teachers need to lead and be given the support in meeting the needs of their young people in their schools.

The Attainment Challenge needs to focus on the family and support the family before education begins, during and after formal education has come to an end. The school does make a difference but it can’t do it on its own. It is necessary that all groups of young people that have barriers to accessing education are identified and supported through the education system. All local services need to be working together and the government needs to foster ‘joined-up’ thinking.

We welcome the £750m for the Attainment challenge and the intention to involve more local authorities and extend it to secondary schools. But we do have concerns about the money being delivered direct to schools and an area-based approach to raising attainment. This would appear to undermine the role of the local authority and put additional unwanted pressure, responsibility and bureaucracy on teachers and headteachers in schools.

The Curriculum. We need a wide vision of learning and achievement and the Curriculum for Excellence is moving us in the right direction but it needs to be broad, balanced, flexible and inclusive. It needs to meet the aspirations of all our young people. CfE is the way forward but teachers need to be trusted and given the freedom to make it work. Unfortunately, the cuts in education and the shortage of teachers have and will continue to create a narrowing of the curriculum. This will lead to some of our young people disengaging with education as a consequence and the problems that will create.

Qualifications. SSTA members have always want to do the best for the young people in their classes and went over and beyond to ensure the qualification system worked and their young people didn’t lose out.

But the qualifications and the assessments need to fit the teaching and learning and not the other way round. Teacher’s professional judgement must be respected and not tested at every opportunity.

The government must be prepared to deliver on its commitment to ‘focus on embedding Curriculum for Excellence across S1 to S3 and ensure that assessment is proportionate and appropriate from S3 onwards’. Unfortunately, little progress has been made to relieve this burden and the SSTA has had no choice but to move to an indicative ballot of our members for industrial action against excessive and unreasonable workload. It is not too late for the government to intervene and stop the assessment madness now.

All children need Qualified Teachers and I reinforce the commitment of the GTCS to ensure only recognised qualified teachers teach in schools in Scotland.

But the government must ensure that teachers have regular and meaningful and continuing entitlement to professional development. This must not be only to meet the needs of the schools, but the development of subject area but more importantly the teacher’s professional and long term career development. The funds for professional development must be protected for all teachers at all levels, including supply teachers, if we want to deliver a professional and adaptable teaching workforce for the 21st Century. Not as one SSTA member was asked recently ‘due to the current financial climate, staff would be asked to contribute £50 towards the cost of the training’ or as a government officer suggested recently that moderation/quality assurance training could be covered over a number of weekends.

We welcome the government’s commitment ‘to maintain teacher numbers and continue to invest in teachers and headteachers.  And we will be interested to see the ‘innovative recruitment methods to address particular subject and local shortages and develop new routes into teaching to help attract the brightest and best graduates to train to be a teacher’.

But the government is failing to address the fundamental issue of teacher’s pay. The government needs to address the cuts in teacher’s pay over the last few years and it needs to show a commitment to reward teachers for the work already done and the challenges ahead. This must mean a substantial increase in pay in the coming year to retain and attract teachers. Scottish teachers are falling behind and today a teacher at the the top of the un-promoted teacher scale in England is £2,108 better off with a pay increase due in September.

We need to make teaching an attractive profession to encourage the retention of the high quality teachers we have and recruit the highest quality people in to the profession. Unfortunately, the damage over the last few years’ needs to be undone and a number of areas including workload, still need to be addressed to deliver a high quality profession.

The local authorities are part of our ‘good education system’. There is a need for a sustainable education system to support schools with local authorities entrusted and responsible for schools. The decision by 4 local authorities to leave COSLA did not lead to the breakdown of national conditions of service and they should now return to COSLA. However, other suggestions by the government may undermine local democratic authority control and could threaten the whole education system in Scotland.

Proposals such as

‘to give Headteachers, parents and communities more responsibility for schools in their areas, allowing them to take decisions within a strong national policy and inspection framework, and encourage them to work together in clusters where appropriate’.

‘to extend to individual schools responsibilities that currently sit solely with local authorities, allocate more resources directly to headteachers and enable them to take decisions based on local circumstances. We will encourage school clusters and create new educational regions to decentralise management and support.

‘to establish a fair and transparent needs-based funding formula for schools and make sure that more money goes direct to headteachers. Headteachers will have the freedom to invest the extra resources in the ways they consider will have the biggest impact on raising attainment in their school – for example, additional teachers, classroom assistants, equipment, out of school activities or home link workers.

‘to review school governance to consider how parents, colleges, universities and local employers can better support efforts to raise attainment and ensure that young people progress into positive destinations’.


But is this not what local authorities do? But they are having to do this whilst facing financial cuts year on year and fewer and fewer staff. If the system is not working you fix ‘the good education system’ you do not go and undermine and destroy it.

None of these measures has been proposed by the SSTA and not to my knowledge has another teacher union campaigned for these changes.

The Government has embarked on cementing the National Improvement Framework that will support schools with more consistent and reliable information at local, regional and national level. The introduction of standardised assessment will help parents and teachers chart children’s progress at P1, P4, P7 and S3.

The NIF and national standardised assessments in S3 will inform teacher judgment and provide better information to parents about how their children are progressing. But at the same time will publish information – school by school – on how many children are meeting the required levels of Curriculum for Excellence. This will allow us to measure the attainment gap and set precise targets for closing it.

The NIF has the potential to set teacher against teacher, school against school, local authority against local authority (if they exist) in the drive for statistics and against the need for collaboration in addressing underachievement and allowing every young person reaching their full potential.

And on top of that the Government slipped-in ‘we will also ensure that school inspections are more focussed and frequent’.

Again I say SSTA did not ask for standardised assessments, more statistics on things their professional judgement already told them, or more frequent inspections when proper support is required.

The Government must stand by its words

‘A good education is an investment – not just in our children, but in our society and our economy too. From early years through to adulthood, we want to provide everyone –regardless of their background – with the very best chance of success in life’.

Our message to the government

Support and defend ‘our good education system’. Choose your own policies not those of others that may sound good but haven’t always been thought through. The consequences of such policies haven't been considered and the people who will have to implement them, the teachers, the Headteachers and other education workers, haven't been consulted nor even considered.

Have the courage of your convictions, choose your policies carefully, work with the unions, we are here to help, not to hinder, and stick by them.

The SSTA is up to the task and wants to work with the government making sure the voice of secondary teachers heard.

Seamus Searson
General Secretary

Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

20 May 2016

SSTA Congress 2016 - Presidential Address

Welcome to the 72nd Congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association.  It is both a pleasure and a privilege to stand here today in the company of so many hard working colleagues, both from within the Association and from kindred organisations, near and far.

Before I begin I would like to express my gratitude to my employers, North Ayrshire Council, and to my school, Kilwinning Academy, for the flexibility they have allowed me over the last year to represent the Association at a wide range of events.  I am glad that I have also still had time to be in school, working with youngsters alongside my colleagues in Pastoral Support.  In this way I have continued to experience classroom successes and challenges first hand, and I have been able to lead on whole school projects which have benefited the whole school community.

I am proud to tell people that I work in North Ayrshire.  It’s one of 7 local authorities receiving a share of the Attainment Scotland Fund.   In 2015 more pupils achieved higher tariff qualifications at SCQF levels 5 and 6 than ever before. In particular, in 2015, S4 pupils exceeded the National performance in Literacy and Numeracy, with 60.5% achieving SCQF level 5 in Literacy and 51% in Numeracy.  Nearly 96% of leavers moved on to positive destinations – three points better than the national average.   In an area of multiple deprivation these are figures to be proud of, but there is no risk of complacency. North Ayrshire Council has set itself targets to provide better mental health support for young people, establishing nurturing approaches in all of its schools, getting parents more involved in young people’s learning, focusing more on senior phase planning to improve outcomes further, developing partnerships with colleges and businesses and other providers for the senior phase, and continuing to develop new monitoring and tracking tools.

My school is also a source of personal pride.  Kilwinning Academy has worked hard to become a school which nurtures its pupils, it is in the process of working towards becoming a UNICEF Rights Respecting School, teachers and pupils are deepening their understanding of restorative approaches, GIRFEC is at the heart of the school’s values.  The staff in the school are hardworking and well-motivated and this is reflected in young people’s attainment.  It’s worth noting that many of the school’s teachers are SSTA members!

The motif of this year’s Congress is ‘Supporting Leadership in Teaching’.  One of my main tasks this year has been collaborating with a working group to revise the Association’s constitution.  While this may seem rather an abstract and arduous task, it has enabled me to think about the Association’s role and how it can best serve its members.

The stated objects of the Association, contained in its constitution, are to advance Scottish education and to safeguard and promote the interests of secondary teachers in Scotland.  But what does this mean for the SSTA in 2016?

Although I’m an RE teacher, I’m going to start with a short history lesson about the great Scottish philanthropist and steelmaker Andrew Carnegie, born Dunfermline in 1835. In Scotland Carnegie is remembered for returning to the people the fortune he made in the form of public halls and libraries, and in the United States Carnegie is remembered for establishing teachers’ pensions and endowing educational establishments.

A man uniquely and ruthlessly possessed by technology and efficiency, Carnegie tirelessly worked to reduce costs and undercut competition in the steel industry.  Making the most of 19th century technological advances Carnegie invested in his state-of-the-art steel mills to make them the most modern anywhere.

Carnegie's timing was perfect; there was massive demand in the US for affordable steel.  New bridges and skyscrapers were springing up throughout America and the blossoming of steel led to more jobs, national growth, and comfortable lifestyles for many.

By applying a modern business model to a fledgling industry Carnegie took advantage of unregulated opportunities to amass a huge fortune worth billions in today’s money.  His personal success is undoubted and almost without parallel. Arguably, it is to his credit that he sought to return what he had taken from the workers, and a century later we still benefit from those unfortunate steelworkers’ labours.  But it is a huge mistake to imagine that the application of business practices to education will produce the results Carnegie achieved.

Carnegie’s success came at a price for Carnegie’s employees: cheap steel resulted in lower wages, longer working days, less job security, and the end of creative labour. While Carnegie’s steelmills may have been efficient, they were not healthy or safe places to work.  Carnegie's drive for efficiency cost steel workers their unions, control over their own labour, and sometimes their lives.

During the Easter break I attended an Education International conference.  Uniting all teachers and education employees, Education International is the global federation of teaching unions and represents over 30 million education workers.  The principal theme of the conference was ‘Protecting and Promoting Education as a Public Good.’    Let me explain what this title means.  In recent decades there has been a move to return to the less regulated age of the early Victorians such as Carnegie.  This deregulation has created many entrepreneurial opportunities but it has also added volatility to global markets.  At its Easter conference Education International sought to highlight the risks presented by the Global Education Reform Movement, which has been given the rather apt acronym GERM by the renowned Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg.   Spreading rapidly like a virus, the GERM threatens the teaching profession by prioritising and imposing a business model on education. As this movement strengthens its position on the global education stage it poses a real threat to high quality public education.

By turning education into a business, the GERM seeks to promote:

  1. competition (between schools and between teachers);
  2. test based accountability;
  3. performance related rewards; and
  4. attacks on teacher unions.

Education in countries all over the world is finding itself under the cold hand of education 'reform' which is diminishing public schooling, promoting privatisation and destroying teacher professionalism. The GERM aims to produce a narrowly educated workforce, which can read instructions and advertisements but is discouraged from thinking critically about the world. There is strong and compelling evidence from the OECD itself that the application of market principles to the provision of education has a negative impact on student outcomes by deepening segregation and inequality, but many governments continue to pursue the liberalisation of education.

Organisations promoting these reforms are no small fry:

  1. the World Bank;
  2. oddly, the OECD, despite its own contrary evidence;
  3. some governments;
  4. and private corporations.

Let me give you one example. At the Education International conference Pearson PLC, the world’s largest education company, came under close scrutiny.  Pearson operates in more than 70 countries providing learning materials, assessments and education-related services to governments, schools, teachers, parents and students – it’s a kind of ‘one-stop’ shop.  Pearson’s mission is to “empower people to progress in their lives through learning,” and in doing so it seeks to earn a significant return on the $5trillion spent on education annually and globally.  In 2015 it generated a cool $1bn profit.  However, despite its claim that Pearson is helping to improve student learning outcomes and increase access to quality education by being a “profitable and cash generative company,” Education International argues that Pearson’s current business strategy is undermining the fabric of public education.

The question that arises is: how can the public interest be supported by edu-business when profit making is their bottom line? To create a market for its products and services, Pearson’s global business strategies are being designed to identify ‘problems’ for national education systems that they can then attempt to ‘solve’ on a for-profit basis.  Inherent to this global business strategy are concerns and contradictions impacting on teacher quality, the right to education, democratic schooling, social justice and equality.

Examples of Pearson products include:

  1. high-stakes testing: it administered 50m standardised tests in the US alone last year and is the company at the centre of the controversial SATs tests in England,
  2. and it provides ‘support’ for low-fee private schools in countries such as Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Philippines, where in many cases underqualified, underpaid, non-unionised teachers read out standardised lessons word for word in classes of up to 90 pupils.

Presenting itself as an educational expert, Pearson is unelected and unaccountable to anyone except its shareholders.

So what we are seeing is that the mechanisms used to propagate the GERM and infect education systems globally include: testing, technology, the weakening of teacher’s collective professional voice and corporate capitalism.  While the for-profit companies may appear outwardly philanthropic, there is another inside story.

When education becomes infected by the GERM it is viewed as an opportunity to maximise human capital, abandoning education’s role of creating cultural good and social cohesion.   The audit and accountability culture of the GERM takes education out of the hands of those who create it and own it (teachers, students, and the public) to develop a commodity which can be traded globally. Education becomes a service sector, open to trade and investors. This view of education is about profit not people, for example developing education technology for capital.

In parts of the UK the GERM is evident in:

  1. fragmentation of education provision through ‘academies’ and ‘free schools’;
  2. marketisation and competition;
  3. growth in standardised testing and ‘league tables’;
  4. the end of the national pay framework in England and the introduction of performance related pay; and
  5. privatisation of education services.

It is worth noting that countries such as Finland have resisted the GERM and, as a result, the education system in Finland is considered to be the best in the world, with compelling supporting evidence.

We are not immune to the GERM in Scotland: one only has to look at the Easter egg left by private finance in Edinburgh’s collapsing PPP schools.  Thousands of pupils were locked out of fairly new disintegrating buildings which had been built cheaply to maximize profit, and PPP schools continue to represent a drainhole for local authority budgets.  Audit Scotland tells us to expect the PPP bill to rise from £500m/year to £600m/year over the next ten years.  We are seeing a narrowing of our senior curriculum reducing choice.  The Scottish government is seeking to introduce standardised testing. Through the Trade Union Bill, we have a government in Westminster which plans to create a much more difficult working environment for trade unions. And in our schools the idea of a principal teacher is disappearing rapidly.  I invite you to think about the words ‘Principal Teacher’ – what do they mean?  They indicate the person who takes the pedagogical lead in the way that a subject is taught.  Now I am not about to criticize Faculty Leaders, many of whom are hardworking successful SSTA members, but what exactly is the idea of a Faculty Leader?  I’ll tell you, it is a managerial role invented to oversee numbers, quality, resources, with subject expertise loosely bolted on.  Local authority employers are keen to fit teachers into their corporate visions and policies.  The model of assessment currently promoted by the SQA is a managerial model, taking approaches to assessment which deny the value of teachers’ professional judgement.  If private finance can bring down schools, it can bring down education.

Be vigilant!  Profit makers are prowling all around our education system seeking out what they may devour.

The SNP Election manifesto states that, “We will… create new educational regions to decentralise management and support,” giving headteachers, parents and communities more responsibility for schools in their areas.    On the face of it this may indicate a commitment to move control of education out of the hands of 32 disunited local authorities into a far smaller number of regional education boards.  But, as Henry Hepburn, writing in the Times Educational Supplement 3 weeks ago shrewdly observed, “It all has the uncanny echo of the rhetoric behind England’s free schools and academies,” and we all know what a great job Nicky Morgan has been making of that.

We need to cherish the values we have in Scottish education and protect what we have with all our might:

  1. no academies,
  2. no free schools,
  3. no marketisation,
  4. no standardized testing,
  5. no published league tables.

We must grip tightly to our Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers with its national pay and conditions framework, and our publicly funded education services.  The SQA may have its faults but it is not a for-profit organization, and we can and do talk to it about exams and assessment.  It is not a company seeking to maximize profit which will protect its shareholders’ interests at all costs.  The GTCS, protecting Scottish teachers’ standards, is a listening organization, not perfect but not private.  It does not supply evaluation tools to schools in return for payment, but invites teachers to work together with their colleagues to examine their own professionalism.  Education Scotland, not for profit, employing teachers to support, visit and inspect schools.  Parents and carers have a right to be included in Parent Councils, and we need to uphold the work of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and the National Parent Forum of Scotland.  SEEMIS, aged and slow, desperately needing money spent on it, is the property of Scotland’s local authorities and is not lining the offshore pockets of shareholders.  Funding gaps are no excuse for allowing profit makers to position themselves as experts and offer solutions profitable only to themselves.

By way of contrast, perhaps as an antidote to the GERM, 17 new global Sustainable Development Goals were unanimously adopted at the United Nations General Assembly Summit in September 2015.

Dubbed “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development,” these goals aim to end poverty and promote healthy lives for all, to achieve gender equality and promote decent work for all, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, to combat climate change, to achieve free, stable and secure societies where the blight of poverty and ignorance are eliminated. Education International led the way in ensuring that there is a standalone cradle-to-the-grave goal on education calling on governments to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Significantly the education goal includes, among its aims,

  1. increasing the supply of qualified teachers,
  2. ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable,
  3. increasing the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship,
  4. ensuring that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy and numeracy,
  5. ensuring that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development,
  6. building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.

These are lofty goals and worthy of our admiration, but they hinge on getting the right culture in global and local education.  In my own school this year I have been working closely with colleagues and youngsters to achieve our Recognition of Commitment as a UNICEF Rights Respecting School.  This is the first step towards embedding rights education in the work of the whole school and I want to commend the Rights Respecting School Award.  UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, was established in 1946 to support children suffering as a consequence of world conflict. Since 2006 over 4000 UK schools have been working with UNICEF on putting children’s rights at the heart of education, and the award is based on 5 principles:

  1. equality,
  2. dignity,
  3. respect,
  4. non-discrimination and
  5. participation

It’s easy to see how these principles correlate to the Sustainable Education Goal.
Because these five principles sit so close to the beating heart of the SSTA, I believe that as a union we should be embracing and supporting this award.  Research has shown that schools which have rights at the heart of their practice are happier, more fulfilling places for everyone to work, staff and pupils.  It has a positive impact on relationships and behaviour, pupils are more engaged in their learning and develop more positive attitudes to diversity, young people respect themselves and others more, and there is a big reduction in bullying and exclusions.
Don’t mistake children’s rights to be a charter for children to do what they want.  By learning about rights, youngsters begin to understand that by enjoying your own rights you need to take care not to violate other people’s rights.  And every child has the right to an education that develops their personality, talents and abilities.

As a member of Education International, working with other agencies, governments and stakeholders the SSTA will play its part in working to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals over the next 15 years.

However, one of the biggest barriers to achieving high quality publicly funded education at the present time is workload.

Two of the big questions of the last 12 months have been:

  1. Why does teaching no longer seem to be the attractive profession it used to be?
  2. Why is it so hard to recruit and retain teachers?

Ask any secondary teacher and they will tell you that the biggest disincentive is workload.  If we were to use a business term to describe workload we could say we have been experiencing an overheating bull market.  In fact there has been so much bull that some teachers have been considering industrial action, some teachers have quit, and others are reporting unreasonably high levels of stress.  These are not simply features of Scottish education; where teachers are to be found so are rising and overwhelming levels of workload.

Teachers often tell me that it is simply impossible to achieve all their duties within the time available, and as conscientious beings they sometimes push themselves beyond the limit.  Tasks undertaken voluntarily in the past have become expectations, and the mantra is always, “it’s for the benefit of our pupils.”  The relentless drive to raise attainment is taking its toll.  Teachers are natural philanthropists, always keen and willing to do their best for our pupils, but if it comes at a cost to our own health and safety then that cost is too high.

Our Congress motif last year was “Teacher working conditions are pupil learning conditions.”  If there is the political will, Scotland has an opportunity to lead the way in promoting teacher well-being.  Education International will be collaborating with the OECD on a research project investigating the stress experienced by teachers in their professional lives and strategies to enhance teachers’ well-being.  My challenge to the newly-elected Scottish Government is to work with us to make Scotland the best country in the world, not only in which to learn, but also in which to teach.

As union activists we have a significant leadership role to play in education.  This is a positive, collaborative role which seeks to improve workplace relationships and job satisfaction.

At the end of 2015 the OECD published a report entitled ‘Improving Schools in Scotland.’  One of its recommendations was that there was a need to “Strengthen the professional leadership of CfE and the “middle”.”  There has been some discussion about what this actually means, but in my view it is reminding us that as teachers we are all leaders of learning.

For the benefit of those who have not yet got round to reading all of its 176 pages, the report says;

“We call for a strengthened “middle” operating through networks and collaboratives among schools, and in and across local authorities. We see leadership best operating not only in the middle but from the middle and indeed see an extended middle as essential to allow CfE to reach its full potential. Yet, so far as the local authorities are integral to such a development, there needs to be complementary action to address and overcome the gaps between the high- and low-performing authorities. This is another important element of “closing the gap”.

There needs to be clarity about the kinds of collaboration that work best to bring about the innovations and improvements to enhance student learning, and to create coherent and cohesive cultures of system-wide collaboration. This is not an argument for mandated collaboration or contrived collegiality to implement centrally-defined strategies. But it is to argue for greater consistency in collaborative professionalism and of moving towards the higher quality collaborative practices that have the most positive effects on student learning.”

Teachers are tired, we are seeking renewal.  There are so many challenges for us to wrestle with and the temptation to fall back into resigned acquiescence is strong.  School staffrooms, once lively hubs of discourse and freewheeling development opportunities, are barren places, uninhabited and unused.  Some PPP schools have even been built without staffrooms!  What does this tell us about the state of the profession?  Teaching needs fertility, it needs to have a sense of prosperity.

No-one can deny that we are living in an age of change. Teachers will not be satisfied sitting back, hoping everything will be alright while feeling unsure what to do.  We can’t leave it to other people, hoping that someone, somewhere will get it right for us.  Teaching unions, the SSTA included, need to gather together in strength to resist the forces which seek to drain profit from education.  Working globally we must collaborate with other unions to lead education into a publicly funded, politically accountable future. This is not an ‘us and them’ situation with our colleagues in other jurisdictions, we are all ‘us’, teachers seeking to provide the best possible education for young people.

As union activists, our role is to be visible, to build relationships, to be risk-taking bridge builders and skyscraper architects who are ready for an unknown future.  None of us here has any more time or energy than our colleagues back in school, but we are willing to make the sacrifice, to give what little time we have, to use our skills and remaining energy reserves to stand up for rights and what is right and to make changes.

What happens when people refuse to adapt to change?  Looking around the room, I ask, when did anyone here last load film into a camera, or play a cassette, check out a reference book, or look up their destination on a paper map? CD players have come and gone, DVDs are on their way out, I have GPS in my watch, Google is ubiquitous, and we can watch last week’s TV programmes without having to work out which tape we recorded them on!  Even cold hard cash seems to be on the way out.  Society has embraced social media, smartphones, online news, catch-up TV, and cloud storage.

Think of Kodak, once synonymous with photography, one of the biggest corporations in the world, great at what it did. George Eastman, Kodak’s founder, was the Carnegie of image storage, and yet Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012.  To survive Kodak was required to ask itself whether it was a film business or photography business.  Recently the Independent newspaper published its final print edition, after questioning whether it was a newspaper business or a news business.  Apple Inc, which started out in the business of making DIY computers, creatively morphed itself into a communications corporation, imaginatively developing products which consumers didn’t even realize they needed.

Unions are great at protecting their members.  Recognising this, and the inevitable risks inherent with working with young people, teaching is a highly unionised profession.  But we need to have a good long think about how we do it and why we do it.

As a union we need to ask ourselves, what is our mission, what direction are we heading in?  Why do we do what we do?  We need to be in a position to recognize the changes that are taking place in education and to be prepared to support leadership in teaching.  We cannot simply hark back to the good old days when things seemed to be better, we need to be agents of change, questioning methods and seeking to move education forward, not getting stuck but morphing creatively.

It is tempting to go about our business in the way that we have always done, reacting and responding, but as teachers we need to step forward and start setting the agenda.  Continuing the work we have started by making connections, we have to clarify our mission, extending invitations.  We cannot assume that the world knows what we are about.  The future is at stake!

Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber, writing in the book ‘Flip the System’ which was published earlier this year, discuss the issue of power and education.  They describe an alternative for state control, moving towards a democratic professionalism that seeks to demystify its work and build alliances between teachers and other stakeholders.  This means, as identified by the OECD in its Scottish report, that there is a need for teachers to lead from the middle.  They state that, “there is a strong need for teachers to connect and to reflect on the purposes of education, and to think and act coherently in terms of their teaching methods.  That is, we believe teachers as a profession should generate a new ‘language of education’, to strengthen education against external forces that threaten a good education for every child.”  To illustrate this they flip the 5 layered pyramid of accountability with government at the top and teachers at the bottom, replacing teachers at the top.  In the first pyramid teachers answer to every layer above them (what can the teacher do for me?) whereas the flipped pyramid generates questions such as ‘how are teachers doing?’ ‘what do they want?’ and ‘what can I do to support them?’.  Evers and Kneyber also explain that, because teachers are supported in a flipped system, they need to take the lead.  Teachers do not wait to be told what to achieve and how to achieve it; instead they show leadership in the how and the what.

Many local authority employers are no longer in a position to provide a strong lead in education; Audit Scotland reports that in just 3 years local authority net spending on education reduced by a whopping £5.3bn.  Where once local authorities could call on a small army of advisers and seconded teachers, they have neither the staff nor the money. A huge amount of their time is taken up with coralling the meager resources remaining to them and seeking to make managerial efficiencies. What about government? The National Improvement Framework first popped out of the offices of the Scottish Government in September 2015: there was no prior discussion with any teacher.

Despite assurance from Government and Employers that they are taking workload issues seriously, there has been no letup in the pace of change.  One of the hardest things about working in the public sector is that when politicians seek improvements, the simplest answer is to expect employees to work harder for less.  We are seeing it with the junior doctors in England, we see it with education in Scotland. Teachers spend too much time on paperwork which is required to justify or defend their actions.  Efforts to tackle bureaucracy are still not generating the time advantages teachers need.

Teachers need to challenge the managerial view of professionalism, the GERM.  Writing in ‘Flip the System’ Howard Stevenson and Alison Gilliland explain that teacher unions have a powerful role to play in articulating teachers’ collective and professional voice both in protecting and campaigning for the pay and working conditions of their members and also critically commenting on a very broad range of educational issues. We must move from being background noise into being a strong recognizable presence, we need to have our fingers in every pie and all over education.  When you look at the second last item on our Congress agenda you can see the SSTA is there, engaging with education bodies at all levels. It is just a short list of some of the people the SSTA meets with, but that needs to be replicated locally through teacher representation on school parent councils and through local political pressure groups.

Now is the time to seek organic growth, not from the kind of sterile managerialism which seeks to weigh the pig daily and analyse its feed, but the kind of shoots which spring from experienced green fingers.  As leaders, working together with our colleagues in other unions, it is our duty to aspire to grow together.  That growth needs to be deeper, more focused, more positive, more centered on educational excellence.  Our understanding of what we are as a union will grow from protection and support into a new era of educational leadership and cooperation.

If the SNP Election commitment to create new educational regions goes ahead, we as a union must form a democratic view on what such education regions might look like and get involved.  We have a recommendation from the OECD and from Scottish Government to lead from the middle.

This is our time for teachers to flip the system, for teachers to get involved in leading teaching, for teachers to wrest control from the politicians, the bureaucrats and the profiteers to enter a new paradigm where public education is led by teachers, parents and young people. Parents and pupils are our strongest allies, our biggest supporters and our most honest critics.  We work with them, and we work so hard, because we believe that every child has a right to an education.  We do not work hard so that politicians can point to their own success or so that shareholders can enjoy a better return on their investments.  This could be the opportunity we have been waiting for to make the whole of Scottish education truly excellent.

With education in crisis, teachers are in a powerful position.  We can buckle under the pressure, or, as the SSTA always has, we can choose to lead.  Colleagues, I wish you a very enjoyable and engaging Congress.


For further information, please contact

Euan Duncan

Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association

Annual Congress 2015

The Association held it's 71st Annual Congress on Friday 8 May and Saturday 9 May 2015 at Crieff Hydro.

This page will be updated  with links to Reports and with video recordings of speeches and motions as they become available online.


General Secretary Congress report 2015


Report of the UK Teachers’ Superannuation Working Party – Fiona Dalziel


A list of the motions from Congress 2015 are available to view at this page.

Seamus Searson delivered the Report of the General Secretary at the SSTA Annual Congress on Friday 8 May 2015.

Ashley Cameron an Ambassador for 'Who Cares? Scotland' was the Guest Speaker at the SSTA Annual Congress on 8/9 May 2015, and delivered an informative and inspiring speech about her life in care, & since.

Dr Janet Brown, Chief Executive and Ronnie Summers, Head of Qualifications Development (CfE) of the SQA attended the SSTA Annual Congress on 8 May, and answered questions from delegates.