Report of the General Secretary - SSTA Annual Congress 2018

SSTA General Secretary Speech to Congress 2018

We are approaching 75 years of the SSTA and the issues in 1944 are the same as the issue of 2018 to protect the interests of secondary teachers in Scotland.

Concerns over conditions of service, pay and workload appear throughout our history and will probably do so for a good number of years.

The objects of the Association are

  • To advance education in Scotland with particular regard to secondary education :
  • To safeguard and promote the interests of secondary teachers in all matters, especially in such affect remuneration and other conditions of service.

The voice of the secondary school teacher must be heard above the demands for change or changes imposed will result in the famous phrase, I hear a lot, the “unintended consequences”.  That will usually end in the changes having to be undone and with extra teacher workload.

I will focus first on the issues that SSTA members are demanding to be heard

The Teacher Shortage

The SSTA response is simple and direct ‘Teacher Retention, Recruitment and Restoration’.

  1. Retention – The first priority is to keep the teachers we have. It makes no sense not to value the experienced teachers we have. Any attempt to focus on recruitment misses the point. Our teachers for the most part have qualified in Scotland, gained experience here and have maintained the education service despite years of unnecessary austerity cuts.

The years of austerity measures have seen teacher numbers cut, promotion opportunities reduced, reduction in pay in ‘real terms, increased workload, cuts in educational support staff and have left the teacher in the classroom alone and unsupported to face the world.

Why not take all measures ‘pull out all the stops’ to encourage teachers to stay. This can be achieved by paying teachers properly, providing a ‘real’ career structure, valuing teacher’s professional judgment, find much needed teacher time by reducing workload, and giving teachers ‘real’ support with the appropriate educational professionals in meeting the challenges that pupils bring in to schools.

  1. Recruitment – the second priority, to encourage more people into the profession. In 2017 there were 1750 Secondary PGDE places but 30% were left unfilled. Teaching is not attractive when we have low pay, spiralling workload demands and when schools are unable to meet the needs of more demanding and challenging pupils.

Some say it is the teacher unions that are running-down the profession.  Unfortunately that is an excuse to deflect responsibility, rather than address the issues that teachers try to bring to the table. Ignoring or not accepting the message of the SSTA is just storing-up problems for the future.

SSTA is not going to stop putting the views of its members to those who make the decisions and can help address the problems that teachers have identified.

We need to encourage people to join the profession with offers of professional respect, professional levels of pay, career development and a manageable workload. Teaching should be seen as a career for life not a job for a few years until something better comes along.

  1. Restoration

The numbers speak for themselves. The top of the main grade point 6 in 2008 was £32,583 and in 2018 it is £36,480. This is an increase of 11.96% in 10 years. But the rate of inflation over the same period has been 26% leaving a loss of more than 14% in teachers’ pay over the last 10 years.

However, that is not the full story as teachers now pay an extra 1.4% National Insurance and an extra 3.3% pension contribution that makes a total 18.7% deficit in terms of real take home pay. To address this short fall the main grade teacher salary should be in the region of £43,000 in order to restore pay.

The SSTA is a full member of the SNCT and the 10% SNCT claim is our claim. This 10% claim not unreasonable and is the first step in a restorative pay claim. The Government needs to support and value its teachers by making a major effort to restore teacher pay levels.

Teacher Career Pathways

Again the figures are clear of the scale of the problem.

In 2010 there were 24,776 secondary teachers but by 2017 that number fell to 23,150 a reduction of 1626 (a reduction of 7%).

The number of Depute Headteacher posts fell from by 1242 to 1108 a reduction 134 (a reduction of 9%).

However, the number of principal teacher posts over the same period fell from 6617 to 5392 a reduction of 1225 (a reduction of 8%). This meant 75% of the teaching posts lost were principal teacher posts.

This is compounded when you add the end of the Chartered Teacher Scale with no replacement and the devastating devaluing of supply teachers by cutting their pay. The employers and schools abused supply teachers for many years by breaking their service to keep them at the bottom of the scale. Is it any wonder they disappeared from the system. The delay in implementing a national supply register is continuing the unfair treatment of our supply teachers.

Many of these changes were not sought for by teachers but took place to save money and squeeze those teachers left in the system.

Have the demands placed on schools reduced during between 2010 and 2017? No, they have continued to increase. Additional workload beyond the classroom, the demands of the national qualification system and the teacher accountability measures have also have increased. The “unintended consequence” is that teaching became less attractive as a career and would eventually lead to a teacher shortage. This was completely predictable and avoidable.

SSTA has advocated a progressive review of the teacher career pathways and looks forward to flexible and alternative routes for teachers throughout their careers.

The SSTA expects proper recognition for all teacher roles in the education system, especially those in the classroom. The focus must be on teaching and learning.

Teacher Workload

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

We need to give teachers back control of their time. 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 but more needs to be done.

We must ensure that the teacher contract is honoured and teacher workload is reasonably managed by strict control of the school’s Working Time Agreement.

All school improvement plans, local authority improvement plans, regional improvement plans and government priorities need to be accommodated within the Working Time Agreement.

It is not hard for those creating priorities and new initiatives to have the proposals to be considered by schools in January of each year before the school begins work on the Working Time Agreement.

It often appears that Government, Education Scotland, local authorities and sometimes Headteachers in schools don’t understand what a Working Time Agreement is and the need to prioritise and plan the work for the coming school year.

A good case in point is the introduction of subject Bench Marks, Standardised Assessments and National 5 changes last year. They were introduced after many school Working Time Agreements had been agreed.

Then the powers to be demanded that the training and hours of work needed were a priority and put pressure on the teachers in the schools to get the work done before the Inspectorate arrived. This way of managing change needs to stop. Good planning and acceptance that everything cannot be delivered at once is the only way forward. Teachers are tired of being pressurised and overloaded. Teachers need to say NO more often.

National Qualifications

The Deputy First Minister said 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”

Teachers were told to expect changes to assessment arrangements but not to course content. Last year the SSTA survey on National 5 changes, predicted the increased workload across all subjects of the proposed changes.

In the last week SSTA conducted a survey at the end of the National 5 course on the impact of the changes. 1,168 members responded across all subjects.

The Overall impact on Teacher Workload 21% said there had been no reduction in workload with 66% of teachers seeing an increase in workload.

The Removal of units - 34% of teachers had seen no reduction in workload with a further 34% seeing an increase in workload.

The Extending of the Exams 30% saw no reduction in workload whilst a further 52% saw an increase

The Changes to coursework 24% saw no reduction and 49% saw an increase in teacher workload.

However, the Impact on pupils of the changes to National 5 is very worrying, especially when there has been a lot of talk about pupil’s health and wellbeing and mental health.

Members have seen a 57% increase in pupil workload, a 68% increase in pupil stress and a 28% expected decrease in qualification success. We all need to ask the question why we are doing this to our children

The Ministers expectation that removal of the units would reduce teacher workload has been undermined when he agreed to the retention of ‘fallback’. This has resulted in 90,000 unit entries taking place at National 5. It is worth noting that ‘fallback’ had been intended to be used only in exceptional circumstances.

This crudely equates to 30,000 students completing 3 units per subject would mean approximately 70+ pupils in every secondary school were ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Again SSTA predicted that teacher workload would not be reduced and it would put additional pressure on teachers and pupils. We are creating ‘examination factories’ not places of learning where happiness is seen as a good and valued thing.

The National Qualification system needs to be reviewed the present system is not working for our pupils. The conflict between broad general education and the senior phase needs to be resolved. National qualifications have become “never mind the quality feel the width”. The situation of National 4 must be addressed urgently and the premise that is a stepping stone to National 5 is not justified when less than 25% of pupils are progressing to National 5.

We need a system that primarily focuses on teacher professional judgement without the workload heavy, bureaucratic and administrative nonsense we have now.

Teaching and Incidents of Violence

The SSTA survey (March 1079 responses) confirmed the regular reports we have been receiving at headquarters from members of the increasing problem of poor behaviour in schools.

In our survey 70% of members experienced incidents of serious verbal abuse; 60% had experienced incidents of threatening or menacing behaviour and 19% experienced incidents of physical assault

Headteachers and Teachers feel unsupported in trying to maintain good discipline in schools. The constant statistical drive to reduce permanent and temporary exclusions is putting tremendous pressures on schools and teachers.

Exclusions have become to be seen as a teacher and the school failing. When in reality it is showing that schools, following years of staffing and funding cuts, are unable to meet the needs of all their pupils in the schools. These pupils become frustrated and disillusioned and ‘hit back’ at the teachers and the remaining few education support staff in schools.

In our survey 28% of teachers said they were not familiar with the reporting of incidents of violence procedure in their school or authority.

And when asked ‘Did you report it’

only 55% of those who suffered serious verbal abuse did report it;

only 66% of teachers threatened or received menacing behaviour and

only 71% reported physical assault.

But the most telling statistic only 33% said they felt supported or received feedback after the incident.

The difficulties in reporting incidents and the perceived lack of ‘no action being taken’ undermines teachers and fails to address the needs and the worsening conditions in schools. The high number of teachers who feel that the schools try to ‘sweep it under the carpet’ and not address the issue is alarming.

Schools and local authorities ‘who put their heads in the sand’ and fail to address the issue are just storing up problems in the future. It is far better to address the behaviour at the earliest stage before it gets out of hand. It is no wonder that teachers are leaving our schools when levels of poor behaviour and lack of support is a regular occurrence in schools.

All violent incidents of must be reported, and any overly bureaucratic and duplicate processes need to be removed. It is not unreasonable for teachers to expect action to be taken by the employers and the schools to reduce these incidents and protect staff. But overall teachers need to be believed and supported when these incidents occur.

Education Bill 2018


Take it as a given that SSTA members care about education and getting the best for their pupils. The main areas of concern for SSTA members are very straightforward pay, workload and pupil behaviour.

The Education Bill is intended to create a school and teacher-led education system. But when governments legislate it must be built on public consensus. In this case the changes intended are not welcomed by the majority of the public and in some instances are already happening.

The creation of Regional Improvement Collaboratives is already happening without legislation.

Improving parental and community engagement and strengthen the voice of children and young people is a place schools would like to be but a lack of funding to provide staff and time has not helped. Provide the resource and it will happen again no need for legislation.

The creation of a Headteachers’ Charter is unwanted by many Head teachers as they are already struggling to cope with all the demands placed upon them. There is no public consensus for this so Minister don’t proceed.

The last plank of the legislation is Education Workforce Council teachers don’t need it and other education workers are not demanding it. To introduce it would be an imposition and not what the public wants.

The priority must be to make changes that are going to help the teacher in the classroom today. If the proposed Education Bill is not going to help teachers in the classroom today then don’t do it. It does not address the issues that are important to teachers today Pay, workload and pupil behaviour.

Teacher Voice

Over the last year the teacher voice has been marginalised and in particular the voice of the secondary school teacher. The Minister has rearranged those who he talks to and listens to. It is easy to surround yourself with people that say the things that you like to hear. It is much harder to listen to those who will challenge you and are prepared to question your direction of travel.

SSTA has represented its members by putting the views of its members to all levels within the education system. Unfortunately, some of the ‘home truths’ are not too easy to take. The SSTA is not walking away but wants to work with all parties to address teacher issues and find solutions.

For the sake of our children and our very good education system the Minister needs to listen to Secondary School Teachers he needs to listen to the SSTA.