CONGRESS General Secretary's Report -11 May 2007

General Secretary's Report -11 May 2007

President, colleagues, in presenting this report to you today, I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to the latest member of the Eaglesham family, Isaac Kael Eaglesham, born on 25th April at 17:00, weight 7lb 6oz, first child of Martin and Sara, first grandchild for Doreen and me.

Shortly after his birth, someone said to me "You have now seen the face of the future", and these words remained uppermost in my mind as I finalised what I would say to you today. In essence, this is what we are all about - we help to secure the future for all the Isaacs and Kates of today and tomorrow. We are the guardians and guarantors of the future that they will achieve, a future far beyond our capacity or imagination. But until those faces of the future are the teachers of the future, the responsibility lies in our hands to make their future as positive and productive as we possibly can. This has been the year of the retrospective so beloved of the arts community. Our retrospective in 2007 has been on the work of Gavin McCrone, or to be more accurate the McCrone School of Artists, of whom very few remain active in their field. The two major exhibitions have been held in the galleries of Audit Scotland and HMIE in Livingston with a follow up in the Holyrood galleries and debating chamber, all featuring the post McCrone impressionists. What we have learned from the retrospectives is this - "if we had been there, then we would have done things differently". Well, there are only two things wrong with this hindsight philosophy. First, you weren't there, and second, you fail to recognise and understand just what was taking place in the context of the negotiations at that time. We were replacing decades of "boom and bust" pay reviews with concomitant industrial action. We were seeking to repair the damage to the status of the profession and to make it attractive to the desperately needed potential recruits. We were working against monumental constraints of time and resources - the deal reached in early 2001 would never have been on offer in mid or late 2001. What the three sides sought to do was to conclude the best possible deal in the available time, and if we didn't seek to insert performance analysis measures, and expected learning outcomes then - sorry! What is a pointless exercise in sophistry at this stage is to seek to analyse and criticise a deal which has brought pay enhancement and stability to our teachers and schools in terms of post hoc data or rationalisation. The flaws - and there have been flaws - in the Agreement are sins of omission, not commission. They reflect the haste in concluding the deal, not a failure to expand the terms even further. If we ever have to conclude such an Agreement again, then perhaps we should include some of these analytical factors. If we do, they require to be part of an agreed, pre-planned, joint and clarified approach, for only in this way can they be valid. The issue of Disclosure checks has been with us for sometime now, but regrettably it will increase in significance in coming years. We live in a world now where nothing can be taken at face value - the internet chat room with 40 year olds masquerading as 15, the "Brandon Lee" schoolboy, fake trading online. Whereas in generations gone by the priest, the police officer, the nurse, the teacher, were figures automatically beyond reproach, sadly this is no longer the case. In our brave new world, technology has enabled us to run checks on an infinite range of people and so now we face not only checks on entry to TEI's, and by GTCS, but also on taking up any new employment, or even a new post with an existing employer. To this will now be added checks for everyone - and not of the monetary value kind. The inexorable spread of computer checks is here to stay. So will the world of education in Isaac's day be wholly secure? Sadly, the answer is no. Firstly, despite the huge burden and cost of Disclosure checks on teachers, they do no more than make a single statement of fact. They provide no help as to inclination or intent, no surety as to conduct in the future. Like the investment warning says, "past performance is no guarantee of future returns". Secondly, like any other such system it will suffer from weaknesses and inaccuracies. It cannot guarantee 100% accuracy or consistency. Thus some may escape detection, while others are erroneously listed. The system will become like so many in our day and age - we rely on it automatically and tick the "job done" box. We sit back complacently and vigilance decreases. If and when the system fails we are unprepared for the consequences ("Cullen Locks") The only way to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our young people is for perpetual vigilance by the regulatory body - the GTCS, by education authorities, by schools and by teachers themselves. We must never allow harm to befall any young person in our care, and must never allow blind reliance on a database to do this job for us. We are the professionals. I turn now to the vexed question, "How does a union which is avowedly non-political take a stance on political issues?" We have been faced with this challenge before and failed to rise to meet it. For decades the question of whether there should be devolved government in Scotland was debated by Congress, but we never reached a conclusion. The late Alex Stanley observed that we were not sure if we wanted a Scottish Parliament, but we were sure if there was, we wanted it elected by proportional representation. Well, we got our way - or did we? Almost as sure as day follows night, the birth of a Scottish Parliament has led to discussion of a referendum on independence for Scotland. This is not the time for sound bites, but once again we feel the hand of history on our shoulder! What will be our attitude some 20 years on. Would the future for Isaac and his generation be better with an independent nation, or a devolved administration? Are we going to debate and examine the issue or will our fence-building skills be called into action again? I'm calling today for this union to be pro-active in any debate to come - not by supporting any party or parties, but by examining the proposition in an open and balanced way, rather than waiting for the outcome of a referendum and the responding to whatever new political reality exists thereafter. We need to stand up for education in Scotland, without fear or favour from political parties or other groups. A move to independence would have potentially far-reaching consequences for our education systems and thus for future generations of our young people. We have a duty to these to care to ensure that the way in which we govern ourselves is to the benefit of young people and not simply for the sake of political dogma. This whole issue is complex, but it is being raised before us now as never before. Whatever may happen and whenever, as one of the major players in Scottish Society, we have a duty to the young people of our nation to do our utmost to ensure that the governance of this land is the most fit for purpose so far as education is concerned. From a global perspective, the outlook for remuneration of teachers does not look promising. The OECD Economic Outlook for 2006 shows that wages as a share of national income in the EU, Japan and USA has fallen substantially, brought about by the process of globalisation. The effect of this is to enrich a tiny minority of the population at the expense of wage earners. In the EU the wage share percentage has dropped steadily and drastically from 68% in 1975 to 58% in 2005. This effect is most marked in the "northern European ...... deregulated market countries". Downward pressure on wages through increased automisation, export of jobs, feminisation and casualisation is a phenomenon with which we are all too familiar. Its inexorable route march through our country is well documented, and the reclaimed landscapes of Bathgate, Revenscraig and Linwood bear testimony of this. However, the fuel for this process of change requires constant renewal - the easy targets have been eliminated -the "low hanging fruits". More recently we have seen the "new dawn" industries similarly affected - Motorola no more, Compaq no more, Hewlett Packard no more. In all of this, the direct provision of education has been relatively little affected, so far. Or has it? We have seen job losses and wage cuts across support services for many years now. The thin end of the PPP wedge has fully inserted itself in the corporate body of education. So far, however, the work of agencies is providing supply teachers is about as far as the private sector has invaded the direct provision of education. Soon this will change as the analysts get to work on the algorithms for teaching tasks. More and more analysis will lead to greater and greater opportunity for alternative providers to supply the market. Producing the same final product (or pupils as we used to call them) at a lower cost using automation or lower skilled workers is the direct consequence, and I make no apology for returning to this theme once again. When the inconceivable becomes the unthinkable, and the unthinkable becomes the impossible, the journey from impossible via unlikely to highly probably becomes entirely credible. Education will be delivered in teacher free zones. Light touch supervision from the professional will be all the human input needed. The education system can then produce to the exact demands of the global economy, and can re-tool its production to deliver a modified output when required. The acceleration of this whole process is being driven not least by the rapid growth of non-regulated hedge funds and private equity. These hugely leveraged funds are exempt from any regulation and seek only one thing - maximise short term return, and then sell it off. Maximising return means lower wages, more productivity and greater profit. It also means less jobs, lower paid jobs and less societal value. We need to support EI and the newly-formed International Trade Union Confederation, whose 168 million members in 153 countries are led by Sharon Burrow, a good friend of the SSTA. All of these colleagues are in the front line of this battle, the next stage of which will be in Heiligendamn in three weeks time when the G8 meet again. We need to tell them - education is for the life of young people not a commodity. Education is far too important to subjugate to the needs of global capital. Education enables people to be free in thought and action, to grow and develop beyond the constraints of the previous generation. Without education, women would not take the vote, slavery would still exist in many nations, and fear, ignorance and superstition would rule. Education is far too valuable to give over to those who only seek to enrich themselves. Education is the heritage of which we are the current custodians - our task is to preserve it for future generations not to sell it for a mess of pottage. Isaac's birth right is not for sale. Not now, not ever, not by this Association and its members, nor our sisters and brothers across the union movement.

David Eaglesham 8 May 2007