I became an SSTA member 35 years ago in 1972, at a time when probationer teachers were arriving in schools in considerable numbers, without already having signed up to membership of any professional association and I suspect that unlike the majority of members I made a conscious and reasonably well-researched decision to do so. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that this was at least in part a financial decision – an annual subscription was involved and at that point my “Aberdonian gene” kicked in and triggered this compelling need to find out exactly what the competing teacher unions offered and to ensure that the level of member service provided was value for money.Although I had read much of the literature available from the various professional associations, it was only when I took some time to speak to school reps and other colleagues about their experiences and views on teaching unions that stark differences between the main alternative organisations began to emerge – differences which distinguished the SSTA as an association primarily concerned with the support of its members, responsive to their needs, views and opinions and driven
by a concern for the quality of educational provision in secondary schools and the professional security and well being of those delivering the service throughout Scotland. Neither of the main union reps in school was particularly active locally but I was impressed by the fact that the SSTA rep could tell me not only the names of all the other school reps in the area but also the names and schools of the District office bearers as well as national figures based in Dundas Street including the General Secretary himself who could be contacted for advice and assistance on all professional matters. Conversations with new colleagues who were themselves members of the Association revealed a generally high level of satisfaction and a few expressed their gratitude for the way personal situations had been dealt with promptly and efficiently in the past by SSTA staff and officials.
“ Your concerns - Our priorities”, our Congress 2007 theme, encapsulates for me precisely these characteristics and defines the ethos of the Association and my reasons for becoming a member in the first place. In the years since then I have been a school rep, District Secretary, member of Executive, Vice-President and now President and at each stage, as my involvement has increased, my knowledge of the Association's policies and priorities has deepened and reasons for our respected position within the national and international education community have been highlighted. I move now to identify my own concerns and challenges for the teaching profession in the coming year.
In my first Presidential Address I introduced the President's Award “for the Most Consistently Irritating Phrase of the Year” and the winner “gold plated public sector pensions.” I am pleased to report that this same phrase has featured just as frequently in the media since last May and in this context I would congratulate our representatives and indeed the UK Government on the outcome of negotiations on new pension arrangements for teachers which came into effect on 1 April this year. The agreement recognises that an index-linked final salary pension is a hugely important component of a teacher's pay and conditions package and although there has been criticism of the raising of the employee's contribution rate to 6.4% and the introduction of a Normal Pension Age of 65 for new entrants, there are also significant benefit improvements, not least the improvement of the death grant to 3 times annual salary. In the light of what has been happening to final salary pensions elsewhere, the continuing underperformance of money purchase schemes and stubbornly low annuity rates, I'm afraid we will just have to put up with the jibes about “gold plated pensions” for many more years. Do not, however, underestimate the threat of a future renegotiation of the April 2007 agreement package. This year's winner of the “Most Irritating Phrase Award” has been around since January 2001 and should have been consigned to the recycling bin long ago – I refer to that old favourite “ the McCrone pay award of 23% over 3 years”. The final component of this phased salary increase came into force in August 2003 and represented the view of the Independent Committee of Inquiry into Professional Conditions of Service for Teachers on the comparative decline of teachers' salaries up to April 2000 and how to restore competitive salary levels “to recruit, retain and motivate high quality teaching staff”. It is truly amazing that this independent pay award should still be being referred to more than 6 years later, most recently in the context of value for money. What is more relevant in my view is what has happened to these competitive salaries since April 2004. We see very little media reference to the 10.05% over 4 years pay award for the period 2004 – 2008 or the 2.25% award for the final year of this 4 year deal at a time when the lowest possible inflation index the Consumer Prices Index is showing is a rise of 3.1%, the retail Price Index is at 4.8% and the Index of Annual Earnings shows a 5.2% increase over the last twelve months.
Observers are always keen to refer back to the original McCrone report when it suits their purposes to do so - so let me do likewise.
“ One other message to emerge from the analysis of pay trends was the fact that over the past quarter of a century teachers' salaries have progressed in fits and starts, with a series of small increases, then a major upwards revision – often following an independent review – then further small increases. The Committee considers this pattern to be unsatisfactory and liable to lead to discontent.”
I would suggest that we are now well into the series of small increases phase – McCrone pay levels have already been significantly eroded and with a background of a pay award limit of around 2% or even less being imposed on other public sector groups this is set to continue. The SNCT faces difficult negotiations next session to halt, never mind reverse, this trend now that the current 4 year agreement has ended. A further multi-year deal seems unlikely in the present climate and perhaps it is time for the SNCT to invoke one of the more obscure paragraphs of the Teaching Profession for the 21st Century Agreement, Section 5.4 Research Into Salary Levels “”¦..the SNCT will have the power to commission research into pay levels or any other matter which it may agree would be helpful within its remit”.I'm sure that the secretariat, Professional Officers and District Secretaries will be glad when the new SNCT Handbook replacing the old “Yellow Book” and incorporating all SNCT circulars (52 at the last count) and other extant agreements finally comes into force in August this year. Issues surrounding Annex C of the TP21 agreement remain and these centre around collegiality and workload and the absence of clear monitoring procedures at LNCT level.I expect also that concerns about the quality of leadership and management in our schools and the review of the Chartered Teacher programme to be at the forefront of ongoing discussion and debate during next session. I had secretly hoped that for the first time in many years the serious problem of indiscipline in our secondary schools would not feature in the Presidential Address, but it ranks highly in the league table of member concerns and with close to 43,000 exclusions from state schools last session (over 80% in the secondary sector) it is clearly a major ongoing issue. Once again I must stress that this presents a serious impediment to effective learning and teaching not only because of the loss of valuable, productive time in the classroom but also when the time spent on processing discipline issues through often tortuous school systems is taken into account. The SSTA is giving a voice to the vast majority of well motivated and co-operative young people who are having their educational opportunities denied by a small but significant minority of their peers. There are some worrying trends (more than 10% of those excluded last year had been excluded more than 3 times during the session yet there were fewer than 300 permanent exclusions, exclusions for physical assault or the threat of physical violence had increased) and extra dimensions are appearing with a small but increasing number of exclusions resulting from the misuse of mobile phones and websites.I spoke last year about the Behaviour in Scottish Schools survey being carried out at the time by the National Foundation for Educational Research on behalf of the Discipline Stakeholder Group (SEED, ADES, GTCS, COSLA and Teacher Unions). The key findings of the survey report (October 2006) were that the majority of respondents considered most pupils to be well behaved in and out of class, low level indiscipline was prevalent and disruptive but teachers were confident in dealing with this. There had been no significant increase in bad behaviour but no significant improvement either since the last survey in 2004. Serious aggressive incidents between pupils do happen occasionally but violence towards teachers is rare. Head teachers have a far more positive perception of discipline issues than either teachers, support staff and particularly pupils themselves. When all staff are involved in discipline improvement and feel supported by senior staff they are more positive about discipline and more confident and effective. Strong leadership is the key to best practice developments based on the Better Behaviour, Better Learning (2001) agenda but implementation of suggested strategies is not consistent at local authority and individual school level.
How many teachers have heard of, never mind been trained in, new approaches designed to improve behaviour?
Staged Intervention, Restorative Practices, The Motivated School, The Solution Oriented School, Cool in School. Behaviour Co-ordinators?
Every council and head teacher is expected to use a suitable mix of these measures known to improve behaviour. Have you had any contact with your authority Positive Behaviour Team (formerly Regional Communication Team) member?
They work with teachers and schools to develop these approaches to positive behaviour.All of this is part of the joint Action Plan agreed by the Discipline Stakeholder Group back in October 2006 but yet to be published.
Additionally other agreed measures are;• The Executive will do more to support quality improvements in on-site and off-site behaviour units.
• New practice guidance on better behaviour in corridors and playgrounds will be developed.
• Head teachers will be expected to engage with all staff and other members of the school community to develop and sustain behaviour policies and approaches to promoting positive behaviour in school.
• The Positive Behaviour Team will develop Executive funded training for Additional Support staff who should be better integrated into school discipline systems.
• HMIe will evaluate the extent to which policies and strategies impact on the experiences of teachers and pupils in schools and classrooms.The SSTA will carefully monitor these initiatives to ensure that outcomes are delivered – only in this way can improvement occur. There may well be long term benefits flowing from these proposals but in the short term the negative effect of poorly motivated and disruptive pupils for whom repeated short term exclusion presents little deterrent will continue to undermine the ability of teachers to uphold classroom discipline, damaging the experience of the majority and causing irrevocable harm to their own life prospects. Is anyone here going to confess to completing either the Scottish Parliament or Local Council ballot form incorrectly? Statistically about 20 people from a group this size got it wrong in one way or another and this, along with the whole catalogue of events both preceding and since the election itself, have contributed to a situation which dwarfs even the fiasco surrounding the cost of the Holyrood Parliament building itself. “You couldn't make it up” - even the most talented scriptwriters would have struggled to justify the inclusion of so many “ I don't believe it” scenarios into one series, never mind one programme, of “Yes Minister”. The only consolation is that amidst all the chaos and confusion no one has got round to blaming teachers and the education system – yet!!
And it had all started so harmlessly. Party manifestos were predictable as far as education commitments were concerned and largely devoid of specific promises to the secondary sector. Class size reductions would apply in early primary, expansion of provision would be at pre-school nursery and even playgroup stages, introduction of a second language and employment of extra modern language teachers would begin earlier in primary school. In Further and Higher Education there were undertakings to investigate general funding levels and student funding and finance, to scrap the graduate endowment scheme, to provide extra money for research and to increase degree and post graduate courses in science and languages. The main policy thrust with implications for secondary schools came in the area of school / work transition with the intention to expand the Modern Apprenticeship scheme, School / College Partnerships and School / Business Partnerships and to establish Skills Academies making leaving school before 18 years of age conditional on staying in education, training or full-time volunteering. Otherwise, only those general pledges to refurbish or rebuild 250 schools, to make school premises available for community use during evenings and weekends, to give more power to Head Teachers and more choice to parents, to create a homework support service, to ensure 1 hour of physical activity for all pupils each day, to devise individual local authority strategy for teaching science and technical subjects and, most importantly, to introduce a Discipline Code with rights and responsibilities for teachers parents and pupils, impinge on SSTA members.I was intrigued by the education manifesto of one particular party which simply pledged to “restore discipline and traditional teaching methods to make sure all students are literate, numerate and well educated, instead of being fed trendy PC nonsense.” I had considered a Congress competition to “Name that Party” but couldn't think of a suitable way of rewarding the winner. Which, if any, of these manifesto commitments ever reaches fruition against a background of lost, missing and late postal votes, technical problems, software glitches and rejected ballot papers, suspended counts, legal challenges, attempted coalitions, failed coalitions, possible minority governments and deadlines for the appointment of a Presiding Officer and First Minister is beyond a mere SSTA President but the fall-out from this election has certainly undermined electorate confidence. It is now up to the members of the new Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive to restore our confidence through their actions in the months ahead. The Association owes no political allegiance to any party and whatever the personal views of individual members, is committed to working constructively with governments and Education Ministers of any and all political group. The “What's best for Scotland's schools, Scotland's pupils and Scotland's teachers?” test will always apply and we will uphold our web-site mission statement, “focusing on advancing education in Scotland and promoting the interests of Scottish secondary teachers.”
It only remains for me to thank the Association and you the members for allowing me the privilege of being your President for the past two years. I have enjoyed the experience tremendously and the opportunity to represent the Association in Scotland, elsewhere in the UK and Ireland and occasionally on a European and world stage has given me enormous personal satisfaction. The SSTA is held in high esteem in the wider education community and I hope that I have contributed at least in part to the maintenance of this enviable position. I have made many friends at home and abroad during my Presidency. I have also amassed a vast collection of ID/Security badges over the years - available to purchase on e-Bay in the next few weeks, developed an unhealthy, “train spotters” knowledge of railway timetables to and from Aberdeen and an intimate knowledge of the bends and speed cameras on the M90 / A90 between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The General Treasurer will be enormously relieved that the President's travelling expenses will now be brought under tighter control. However, it is through the routine core work of the Association that the organisation will flourish and in this context I must thank our General Secretary, David Eaglesham, our Depute General Secretary, Jim Docherty and the team of Professional Officers, and Executive Officer, Lesley Reid-Galbraith and the admin staff at West End House for their advice, help and support since 2003 during my period as Vice-President and President.
I know that Ann has done a vast amount of work as my Vice-President and I am aware of the considerable contribution Peter has made to the Association over the years – I am confident that the Association is in safe hands and wish the Ballinger/Wright team every success during 2007 – 09. ALBERT MCKAY
11 May 2007.