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