Margaret Smith’s Presidential Address – Congress 2013

It seems almost inconceivable that two years have passed since Peter Wright called me ‘Muggins’ and pinned the President’s badge on me –

-and what a two years they have been Following my last Congress address I was described in the editorial of a national newspaper as, ‘selfish and irresponsible,’ ‘living on the moon,’ and an example of ‘why members were deserting trade unions.’ I must have got something right.

Unfortunately, the concerns I raised last year still beset us. Pensions remain under attack. Despite the Association’s gesture of goodwill to the Scottish Government in suspending our work to contract in defence of our pensions, little if any, progress has been made. Alan McKenzie will expand on this in his General Secretary’s report.

During my tenure I have tried to visit as many schools as possible, from Orkney to the Scottish Borders, and members have repeatedly made it clear to me that Curriculum for Excellence, both in terms of what is required to deliver it and the workload implications of delivering it, remain a major cause of concern. Confusion and distress at the workload implications of that confusion are universally voiced, and in many cases, reflect real despair among teachers.

Nor have concerns regarding the ‘independent’ GTCs been resolved and teachers continue to be subject to the judgment either of ‘appointees,’ or by persons, whether or not they have a teaching background, who have simply volunteered their services. It seems that ‘independence’ means being ‘independent’ only of those who continue to fund the entire cost of the GTCs – Scotland’s teachers.

A serious re-evaluation of the SSTA’s relationship with this body is overdue.

Fewer opportunities for career progression owing to cost driven Management Restructuring Policies, lack of meaningful CPD – and of course – ‘Professional Update’ and the confusion, and apprehension which accompany this yet another politically imposed initiative are all still with us”¦

Yes, the concerns I raised last year have not gone away; however, the main thrust of my speech this year, and the theme of this year’s Congress, is my old hobby horse – pupil indiscipline. For many years now I have spoken out at Congress about indiscipline and its effect on learning and teaching – not to mention teacher welfare and professional confidence.

Although some statistics suggest that a degree of progress is being made, that overall, there is a reduction in exclusions, and that pupil behaviour is improving – statistics can be misleading. (You recall the old adage about ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’?)

Truly appalling behaviour can be concealed by such procedures as ‘in school exclusion,’ for example; however, more significant is the inconsistent approach often taken because of the political determination to reduce exclusion figures.

It is ridiculous that teachers ‘ability to teach and pupils’ ability to learn can be such a hit and miss affair, depending on what school they end up in and the support offered by that school in dealing with serious misbehaviour. Nor, as we all know, is this a problem solely for disadvantaged areas. Schools within the same catchment area can have vastly different standards as to what behaviour is tolerated, even condoned.

What is needed is a consistent approach to dealing with indiscipline, an acceptance that some behaviour – violence, threats, verbal abuse of teachers – cannot be tolerated and a national consensus for dealing with such behaviour arrived at. As one highly successful and supportive Headteacher once said to me, ‘It’s not rocket science.’

And of course, a new dimension to the seemingly eternal problem of indiscipline has arisen. We are only too aware of problems involving the abuse of social media networks, mobile phones, etc. among pupils, but far too little attention has been given to the cyber bullying of teachers. Make no mistake – there have been truly shocking examples of abuse of teaching staff by pupils – photographs taken without consent and posted on You Tube – false Facebook pages created filled with scurrilous content including explicit sexual imagery – and the use of technology generally, as yet another resource to abuse and undermine teachers.

I am convinced that the cases we hear about are the ‘tip of the iceberg,’ and that cyber bullying of teachers is an issue that the SSTA must confront head on.

To sum up, there is much yet to be done and this is no time for complacency as our politicians of all colours tell us. Teachers face two more years of frozen salaries, diminishing resources, increased workload, enduring issues of indiscipline and constant expectations that teachers will exercise their professionalism in spite of everything and with less and less support.

The fight goes on. We might be ‘all in this together,’ but the bitter conclusion is that some of us seem to be much deeper in it than others”¦

For further information, please contact

Margaret Smith

President

Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association

West End House

14 West End Place

Edinburgh

EH11 2ED

Published on 10 May 2013 - Congress