CONGRESS GENERAL SECRETARY’S REPORT – 12 MAY 2006

GENERAL SECRETARY’S REPORT – FRIDAY 12 MAY 2006

President, Colleagues,I rise today to present to you the report of the General Secretary. I now do this for the 10th time, re-enacting my first speech to you here in Aviemore in 1997. You may recall that day well, but it will almost certainly be for reasons other than the perspicacity and erudition of my peroration. Yes, it was the day when Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, aged 14 ¾ first ascended to the throne and swept away 17 years of Tory misrule. The good old days – days when any scandal or disaster by new Labour could be blamed on “the bleedin’ Tories.” So, no change there then Charles Clarke?My personal recollections of that day have a slightly different focus – the awesome task of advising the then Acting-President Bill Guthrie, of 4 weeks standing, on the basis of my several weeks of experience; a comedy of errors in the suspension of standing orders in the Constitutional Amendment session; doing TV interviews when I was due to be speaking in the hall. Ah yes, the good old days indeed. However, my purpose in making reference to this anniversary is to ask you to join me in looking at the ways in which we as an Association have changed or remained the same over that period.In the vast majority of ways, we have collectively made huge advances. Not least of these is the reversal of the previous trend of a falling membership to give us a 40% increase in membership against a background of lower teacher numbers overall. It would be very wrong, however, to look only at these bare statistics quod vide school exam results and league tables. If all we did was recruit with empty promises we might well have imploded by now. Instead, what we have seen is an empowerment of our activists and a huge expansion of our capacity to deliver services to members. We have decentralised power and allowed and encouraged lay members at national and local level to seize the opportunity to advance the cause of the Association at every and any opportunity.We have reshaped our staffing to give even greater priority to direct Member and Official support. Our administrative colleagues have been encouraged and enabled to work at the highest level of their personal capacity and as a result we now have outstanding achievement in the technical and service areas of our business. Their excellent input has freed up our Secretariat and Professional Officers to devote much more time to direct contact with members and officials, whilst ensuring the highest level of service delivery overall. Our continued expansion in quantity and quality has seen us move premises on two occasions, most recently to our new and as yet unnamed office in West End Place. As well as restoring our capacity to hold meetings within the office once more, we have paved the way for future growth and development. This signifies the attitude of a dynamic and forward thinking union, confident in its past achievements and its future prospects.Our influence and impact on the education scene remains at a consistently high level, locally, nationally and internationally. I have to repeat to you, however, that not everything has changed. In some ways we have not budged an inch, and we remain exactly where we were when I reported to you for the first time. What are these ways?Our stance as being non party-political remains unaltered. We are a broad church, with activists from all political parties and none, but we are beholden to no external group. This allows us to be unchanged in our other main stance of being fearlessly willing to speak out on every issue we believe to be of concern. We remain willing to be eccentric, egregious and emphatic as well as consensual and co-operative as the need arises. We speak in measured tones, or stridently as the need arises and we speak with authority on our areas of expertise and only on these.We remain distinctive as a union for secondary teachers and schools, whilst showing the greatest respect for our colleagues who work in other sectors of education in which we do not operate. This applies to our geographically separated kith and kin in these islands and all over the world, not least the recent delegation from New Zealand who sought our views in their visit to our office just last week. Here endeth the first reading!Going back to a more recent date, 2003 to be precise, I reported to you my growing concerns about the role of local authorities in a devolved Scotland. Our policy moved on in 2004 to call for sharing of services across Council boundaries in addition to our longstanding but often forgotten policy of having Joint Boards for education, most likely along the lines of the police force and health services. I have to report to you today that there is a more urgent need than ever to review governmental functions in a devolved Scotland. In a nation of 5 million persons, we simply do not need the level of bureaucracy that we suffer under. In terms of education we have organised, controlled or maintained at national level the curriculum, examinations, teacher entry/exit and qualifications, pensions, salaries, conditions of service, CPD, promotion structures, inspections, overall funding levels, health and safety parameters, employment law, old uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. There is a national strategy which seeks to devolve much operational control to the individual school and head teacher.What then does this leave us in the middle? 32 local authorities who are simultaneously charged with implementation of all of the national strategies whilst attempting to show how much better they are than their neighbouring authority. As Professor Richard Kerley recently put it, how can there be 32 best ways to pay salaries to staff? How can there be 32 best ways of interpreting SNCT 26? How do the young people of our nation benefit from 32 separate sets of local conditions and arrangements? At what price comes such diversity? It is a constant source of contention that tracing the progress of money allocated at Holyrood (or Westminster) to be used in schools is more akin to a game of “find the lady” than a scientific analysis. The so called “Brown money“ which we hear of annually is an unknown quantity to most head teachers. The fog of war obscures the whole issue of finance, so much so that we now have Highland Council threatening the demise of all Advanced Higher classes. The reason given – yes it’s the other old game – blame McCrone! The lack of classes is down to the extra non-contact time from 2006 apparently, even though all of the McCrone agreement was fully costed and funded, from 2001 onwards.The true underlying problem is in the structure we have. It does not require 32 separate authorities to administer the system. The concept that local democracy hugely influences strategy is outdated in the context of the education service we now have. Do the citizens of Hamilton and Motherwell have such radically different views about education as they have football teams in different leagues? Are the requirements of young people in Musselburgh so different to those in Dalkeith or Peebles? Very few, if any, motorists now subscribe to the old theories that certain brands of petrol are superior to others. The old allegiance to BP and Shell has now been replaced with buying from the cheapest or most convenient source, reassured by the BS number on the pump and the activities of inspectors. Our habits have changed radically in this area. The same should be true of governance of schools – we need a new model which avoids the problems created by the 1994 local Government Reform Act, passed by – oh yes, of course – the “bleedin’ Tories.”When the Scottish Executive get around to looking at all of this after the 2007 election, they could do worse than look at our standing policy for joint boards and devise a system around that model. As an Association we will need to have some debate about our view on what shape we believe any reformed system would have, and we need to do this in the near future.In conclusion, I want to make a third visit to my past reports, this time to 2004 when I gave you a glimpse into the way I saw the world in 2020. Bringing you up to date involves letting you know that First Minister Tommy Sheridan survived the “votes for flights to the moon” scandal and went on to sit in the new Scottish House of Peers as “Lord Sheridan of that ilk.” Taking you even further beyond this world of 2020, an exercise which we have had to undertake in the recent negotiations on pensions, we need to look at the long-term trends in birth rates and population structures. Whilst these matters will not directly affect most of those in the room today during their teaching service, we do have to look forward to see what kind of education system and what kind of teachers we will require in 2040 and beyond.The falling birth rate – down by 32% since 1960 continues its cyclical downward trend. The impact of this will be to leave us with an ever-reducing group of young and working-age citizens whilst the over 60s will be the largest group in the overall profile. These diagrams are actually representative of Germany, but the trends are made very clear and are equally true of the UK. Will a society with this greater dependence on a smaller number of wealth-creating citizens start to press for a more Dickensian approach to education and work? Will we see selection at 5 or 10 years of age into the “students” and the “workers” to enable a much greater young workforce to help support the rest of the community? Will teachers be expected to run an increasingly elitist system for the greater good of all? Will the average age of teachers in 2040 creep up and up so that much of the service delivery is done by colleagues over 65? The concept of “Knowledge leverage” will apply in the world of 2040, so much so that, for example, a naval warship which currently has a crew of 350-400 will operate with less than 100 through the use of this technologically driven “Knowledge leverage”. Pilotless aircraft are already seen as the next step in potentially hostile environments such as flying football fans of a certain nation to away football matches. The ability of an elite of highly-trained and skilled workers to deliver with a minimum of human interaction will be crucial to the prosperity and growth that nations will demand and suggests that differential levels of education may well become the norm. These will be based, however, not on parental wealth or background, but on a psychometric testing of perceived aptitude for the higher order tasks. It will echo the world of Romanian gymnasts and East German swimmers, segregated at the age of 5 or less and “hothoused” to harness their capacity to deliver, regardless of the personal consequences. There will be a considerable moral dilemma for the SSTA members of 2040 – societal development or personal growth may be the choices for learners in those days.In the usual way of latter-day prophecies, it may well be that 2040 arrives long before its chronological position. Regardless, the consequences will be equally inescapable. Crystal ball gazing it may be, but to the 31-year-old teachers today, this is their future career and we must prepare them and our Association for these days. What kind of union will we require then for these years ahead? We will still need a union run by its activists, one in which member involvement remains crucial, and one which is characterised by the personal touch. And who will run this union in 10 or 20 or 30 years time? The baton will pass to those of you here today, and to those back in your schools, just as it has passed from generation to generations over that last 60-some years. What we need to do now is to enable the next generation to maintain the tradition, the record of achievement and the forward-mindedness of this Association. In your hands the future of the Association and all it stands for will be safely assured. You will not fail us. I present my report. David Eaglesham

11 May 2007

Published on 15 November 2007 - Congress