Presidential Address – 75th Annual Congress

Kevin Campbell, SSTA President

Address to the 75th Congress of the SSTA

Colleagues it gives me immense pleasure and no small amount of pride to welcome you all to the 75th Annual Congress of the SSTA.

I’d like to extend a warm and heartfelt fraternal greeting to our friends and comrades from our fellow unions and to the members of the press who are in attendance. Furthermore, I implore any politician who is here as a guest of the Association: please listen carefully to what we are saying. It is in places like this and at the coming EIS AGM that you will hear the voices of the “experts”. Not at parliamentary committees, not at panels of academics or “stakeholders”, not at the OECD or even, dare I say it at Education Scotland or the RICs but here where our profession gathers to discuss what the situation really is and uses the combined weight of hundreds of years of experience and practice to evaluate what is best for Scotland’s children and for the professionals who will deliver Scotland’s future!

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Most importantly, however, I’d like to welcome our delegates, as selected by districts from across the length and breadth of Scotland. For me, you and our sister union’s representatives are the most important people in any school, for it is you who have decided to put your efforts into safeguarding the working conditions of your colleagues and it is you who is helping build the best educational environment, often at odds with some of the ridiculous ideas of our bosses, for our young people!

Colleagues, even the not so observant amongst you will have noticed this year’s strapline: Teaching Scotland’s Future. Now this may sound grandiose but that is exactly what we are doing and we are doing it in a climate in which, I feel, aspects of that future are under dire threat.  The World in which we live is becoming ever more precarious. Democracy, as we experience it, is in my opinion under siege. We are seeing the rise, across our planet, of unethical, amoral and downright disgusting political opportunism and right-wing, neo-liberal populism. Our rights as citizens are being eroded on a continual basis. The little democracy we are allowed, and remember this democracy was fought for and won through the blood and sweat of our trade union forebears, is gradually being scraped away, layer by layer. A good example being that on one of the days of the absurd bickering in the House of Commons about Brexit the “government” slipped in under the radar the cutting by up to 25% of housing benefit for people with spare rooms! Now that I’ve mentioned it, we just can’t get rid of the ongoing nonsense of Brexit, with the uncertainty that it brings and the platform it, either intentionally or unintentionally, gives xenophobes and racists. I find it strange that I am able to quote or rather paraphrase, of all people, a comedian- Frankie Boyle, whom, I tried to persuade Seamus and Alan to invite as our guest speaker. They weren’t having it. But yes colleagues, Glasgow’s own son, Frankie Boyle, whom I watched on TV asking why it is that our media allows these xenophobes and racists a platform from which to spew their repugnancy as if they actually had a rational and valid argument? Remember: this is the same media that is creating the spring board by which, and I say this with absolute conviction, the enemies of all mankind- Jacob Reece-Mogg and Boris Johnson, can launch their vile views upon our people in their attempts to become the Prime Minister of the UK! Colleagues, if this happens we should prepare for the very worst. Rees-Mogg and Johnson have articulated with unashamed clarity that the first thing to go after Brexit is worker’s rights. Both of these men, and their party in general actively want to return this country to the Victorian era and want workers kept in their place as slaves to their masters, ie them. Rees-Mogg is a border line fascist who in the past has shared speeches from the German far right AfD on his Twitter account. He is a disaster capitalist who makes millions from people’s misery. Johnson is an aristocratic thug and a chauvinist of the worst hue. This pair’s views are not exactly underrepresented amongst Tories.

Colleagues, this isn’t just a general rant, The Tories are the sworn enemy of the Trade Unions and of the majority of the children we teach. Look at what they have done to the education system of England. They have destroyed it! Rampant privatisation has led to the complete erosion of any semblance of a unified comprehensive system. Schools are operating without qualified staff, the rise of religious fundamentalist schools of all stripes, grammar schools, and “academies”. On top of this, management bullying and utterly contemptible performance related pay structures, which are solely based on whether the boss likes you. The ongoing atomisation of the comprehensive system in England makes it very difficult for our sister unions to effectively organise and negotiate at a national level. To us the English system may seem a million miles away but colleagues we must remain vigilant, there are many characters in Scotland who want to enact the same crime here! To them our charges are nothing more than fodder for their slave shops and their wars.

Colleagues, the Tories don’t need Brexit for any of the aforementioned but the Brexit debacle will have further negative impacts on our profession. As mentioned, the Tories are already planning an all out offensive on the working people of this country. Ladies and gentlemen, that will include teachers. We are already seeing in Scotland, that some of our co-workers from EU countries are electing to leave as Brexit either effects them or members of their families. We are seeing that the number of applicants to come into our profession from the EU are falling. Colleagues this is criminal! Talking of criminality, the GTCS are also rightly concerned about the loss of the database through which they check for criminal records from EU applicants. They fear a return to a hit and miss approach to finding this information out, as it will then be a case of relying on the law enforcement agencies of the applicants country of origin responding with the required info. The point is of course, the people most negatively affected shall be the pupils in our classrooms who will be going without a teacher because we have allowed small minded bigotry and parochialism to manoeuvre our country into this position. Our children welcome diversity, it opens their minds to how other people live and how they may in future choose to live. We need to oppose this and call on the Scottish Government to take concrete action against anything that reduces the horizon towards which the vast majority of our children gaze.

Comrades, I don’t know about you but for me this has been a slog of a year. As is perennially the case we have been involved in a three way battle with our bosses. Pay, workload and pupil behaviour. These three issues have plagued our profession since its inception. At this, our Association’s 75th Congress we are talking about the same issues as we did at the 1st! Fair enough, I’m sure there was also a lot of talk about why this Association even had to exist in the first place but nevertheless, I’d be prepared to bet that these things were also on the agenda.

However, everything is relative and I’m positive that every single one of you would agree that we are suffering from historically unmanageable workloads and behaviour and that on these fronts we’ve yet to score any sort of victory whatsoever. Colleagues we need to be committed to changing that! As an aside, I was looking through a document from our archives and found an article in a magazine we produced at the time. This magazine was highlighting issues with growing pupil indiscipline, much like I’m going to. However, the reasons cited made me laugh out loud. At that time the causes of our young people’s unwillingness to do what they’re bloody well told was thought to revolve around them listening to subversive music on Satan’s wireless and watching innocence destroying and culturally damaging movies at the cinema. What?  Westerns and Musicals?! Fair enough this was the 50’s but it makes you wonder what the reasons would have been a few years later in the 60’s!

Anyway, this year did see a major victory for our Union. The stalwart determination of and the partnership between the SSTA and the EIS has resulted in the 10% breaking pay deal. Colleagues, this didn’t just happen. Our profession mobilised on this issue on a scale scarcely seen in Scottish Union history! 30000 teachers, their families and supporters took to the streets of Glasgow to demand our just due. Anyone who was there that day should never forget that they were a part of trade union history. To be able to look behind you at any point and see what appears to be a never ending procession of thousands upon thousands of your brothers and sisters receding into the distance and the same in front was, for me awe inspiring! As soon as my wife and I entered Kelvingrove Park and saw the number of people already gathered there, long before the march was to start, I knew we were in for something special. Colleagues what an occasion that was! We have to give credit to our comrades in arms in the EIS for their fantastic efforts in getting that march organised and in ensuring the mobilisation of their membership. However, the success of the pay campaign wasn’t just down to the march in Glasgow that day. The numbers turning out to demonstrate were as high as they were because we have simply had enough! The level of anger and frustration teachers are feeling, then and now, is palpable. We can’t take any more! We already know that we can’t get people in, that people are leaving and those of us determined to stay are increasingly finding it difficult to remain but even though, it just keeps getting worse! Whilst talking to members over the last year or so it is evident that the pay issue was not the foremost issue. Or at least was only one amongst the other issues that are making our job so very difficult.

Colleagues, Curriculum for Excellence, whilst utterly laudable in its principles has been, in its implementation, an absolute nightmare for our profession. It has been, from the start, a half arsed, half baked hodgepodge of semi rational notions of pedagogical rationales and curricular inconsistencies. At virtually no point in its history has our profession been fully consulted in its ideological underpinnings, curricular necessities or implementation. Indeed at every turn the voice of teachers has been ignored. Why? Is it because, on some level, the bureaucrats in charge realised we would recognise the contradictions between what they said it should be and what it turned out to actually be? Is it because they see us as wreckers who would upset their plans by insisting on well thought out and joined up strategies? Or is it because they know we would see the insidious culture of ever increasing workloads implicit in the wholesale removal of one system to be replaced with another having had zero groundwork put in? Colleagues, they wanted it all, yesterday! It was never going to work. They blazed on regardless, knowing, indeed expecting, that we would carry the burden that we would just knuckle down and get on with it. The thing is, we have! We are the reason that the education system in Scotland isn’t a complete shambles. Some may argue it is but nevertheless we continue to spend unthinkable volumes of time and effort in trying to make this system work. Comrades, we need to say enough is enough! Our health, our families and our sanity should be worth more than sorting out the mess that our education system is in. We have to say no! We have to take action to reduce the workload! We have to resist the culture that insists on constantly re-designing the wheel, constantly wanting to re-work what we are already doing, constantly wants to codify our responsibilities and erode our professionalism:-  resist the bureaucratic insistence on handing us down our instructions from on high in the form of HGIOS. Comrades, in Northern Ireland, as part of their ongoing industrial action, they have refused to interact with their version of Education Scotland, this has led to teachers taking back their power to decide what’s best for the young people in front of them and has led to the removal of fear from managers to ensure they have all their silly checklists, in their concertina folders completed. It has removed the need to micro manage staff in the angst they may not be meeting one of the quality indicators! Incidentally, the drive for the recording of evidence on every aspect of a child’s ability and the fear of not having that evidence, in my opinion, is leading to a burgeoning culture of management bullying in our schools. Colleagues for our Irish friends the result is more time to just get on with what they are good at, teaching!

We know the implementation of CfE was poorly thought out and enacted, but we are several years down the line now and the issues are not being resolved. Our school structures cannot meet the demands that the curriculum places upon them. The desire to offer pupils every thing, when they want it and how they want it just can’t work! I’d like to ask if there is anyone in this room that works at a school where the timetable isn’t in some way or another making their job harder than it needs to be? Isn’t this because it is impossible to deliver the demands being placed upon it? There just isn’t the resources. There aren’t enough teachers or rooms! There also isn’t the expertise amongst senior managers to be able to design the parameters within which all this can be delivered. No wonder, who has?! This inevitably leads to the situation where a teacher has to contend with multi-course classes, split classes, sharing rooms, a lack of resources, over subscribed classes, reduced teaching commitments for BGE classes etc. You all know: this just means more work for us! My own Local Authority, through my constant raging and ranting about it, just to shut me up for 5 minutes,  recently conducted a survey of teachers to try and understand how timetabling affects workload. The results were incontrovertible and overwhelming: teachers, in huge numbers cite timetabling as being a prominent reason for increased workload. The level of planning involved due to timetabling shortfalls becomes onerous and unmanageable. How can learning and teaching and thus attainment be made better in these circumstances? Add to that continual, (still) changes to the curriculum, a lack of clarity and exposition regarding assessment arrangements, constant cover demands, the need to find time to try and understand and implement your responsibilities around GIRFEC and inclusion, constantly having to negotiate subject levels with kids and managers, having to pick up the pieces from inappropriate subject level choices, i.e. everybody doing every level and every unit, ever reducing budgets, the demands of tracking and monitoring, report writing and parents nights and of course all the other things I haven’t mentioned of which there will no doubt be hunners and the situation becomes clear: comrades, we are being asked, no forced, to do an impossible job. It cannot be done! Of course, ultimately it is the children of Scotland who will suffer, are already suffering, when they don’t get the time they require with their teacher and when their teacher doesn’t get the time they need to do their job.

Now, this takes me on to my next topic. Colleagues as mentioned earlier, if you were to peruse the history of our Association, you wouldn’t be long in finding complaints about behaviour. Obviously wherever children are involved there are going to be issues with how they behave. We have to accept there are elements of being a teenager that just aren’t going to go away. Rebelliousness, for instance is, in my opinion a good thing. Teenagers should question what they are told by adults. How else do they develop independent thought? They should be able to consider the situation and weigh up the pros and cons of it and how it relates to them and what they want or need. However, I would argue that the present situation in our schools has gone way beyond such innocent personality building. In recent surveys conducted by our Association it can be seen that over 70% of you are being effected by this on a regular basis. Colleagues, how many of you can say you have not been, at least, verbally abused just this week. For me, this verbal abuse ranks top of all stress inducing factors in my job.  Colleagues, there seems to be an expectation that we are to be subjected to the most foul abuse on a daily basis, often more than once. Pupils are belligerent in the extreme in their use of language. Very often violent, personalised, sexualised, homophobic and sexist language, occasionally sectarian and racist. The latter two though, in my experience are rarer. Nonetheless, to be subjected to this sort of language on a continuous basis is damaging. It’s damaging for morale, self-esteem and ones health. I suspect however, even more damaging is the lack of support staff can expect from their managers. The lack of action taken against such individuals or the perceived, sometimes open implication that somehow or another you were to blame for the situation only makes it worse. Simply put, children are not to be accountable for their actions! Colleagues, how has this situation come to be? Are these children to be exempt from the laws of our country when they leave school? Do we want a society where no one answers for their actions? Do we want a society devoid of respect for others?

To my mind this sort of behaviour has slowly evolved over the course of the last two decades, it has worsened under the aegis of CfE.

The Nurture or “Cuddle” culture, stipulates that the child is to be at the centre of all aspects of education, a la GIRFEC. As a progressive and a socialist I have no problem with this notion in any way whatsoever. What I do have a problem with, and I suspect many of you do too, is with the notion that with the many rights a child has, and these rights must absolutely be upheld at all costs, is the direct result of how we have implemented this paradigm. Namely, that a child has many rights but never a single responsibility! This culture has led to the situation where a teacher almost has no authority over their charges. When attempting to maintain discipline in the class room a teacher can expect to be challenged on every instruction issued with cries of “I don’t need to do what you say” or “you’ve no right to make me do this” or even the tried and tested “I’m getting my mum and /or dad up here.” This leads to an intolerable position of powerlessness for the teacher. When these issues are raised with PT’s or Guidance there is often an extreme reluctance to resolve this power imbalance. These colleagues feel that they are in the same position of powerlessness. Why is this? I feel, and many won’t appreciate hearing it, that the central issue lies with many teachers ideas of how Pupil Support should operate within a school. The core concepts around the wellbeing of the child lead many to assume that this means they cannot or should not suffer a consequence for their actions. Most often you will be told about how awful their backgrounds are and of the many issues they have to deal with. Colleagues, I don’t doubt it! I spoke at length last year about how many of our children are suffering from the health and social affects of the criminal levels of poverty suffered by many of our people, indeed I would argue the majority of our people. Child poverty is at its highest level in 20 years! However, are we doing our children any favours by allowing them to think that how they are treated at school is actually how they will be treated as adults? I don’t think we are, indeed I think we are allowing our children to develop a seriously distorted idea of the society they will emerge into. In fact, we are creating for these children a complete fantasy! In the real world they WILL be held accountable for their actions, be it in the workplace, within their communities or in a court of law! It is critical that we impart to our pupils the need for discipline, especially self discipline. We can argue about how best to achieve this but we must absolutely agree in the first instance that it must be accomplished. Our senior bosses in schools, Local Authorities and in the Government must accept this. They need to empower our profession to take back control in our classrooms.

As I’ve said this revolves around the notion that with rights come responsibilities. In my opinion you don’t have the right to not have responsibilities! Also, as any probationer should know: children need boundaries, they want boundaries. Having boundaries makes it easy for everyone to know where they stand and what they are able to do and not do. We often hear about the right to an education but should you continue to have that right when you are infringing upon the rights of your classmates to their education or indeed, when you are infringing upon the right of your teacher not to be verbally or physically abused? We need our bosses to support us and challenge pupils’ and parents’ unacceptable behaviour.

 At the heart of many of these issues is Inclusion. Colleagues, I’m not talking about Inclusion as you or I understand it or want it to mean i.e. the notion that all children, regardless of any impediment, have the right to learn to the best of their ability in the same conditions as their peers or in the conditions that best suit their needs, I’m talking about Inclusion in the world of austerity! The cuts to our education services since the calamitous worldwide crash of 2008 has led to an environment where almost all special educational needs establishments have been closed down. There is no longer specialised provision for children with acute behavioural needs or even for children with hearing or sight impairments. The services that remain extant are under constant threat! The funding once in place for these services has not followed the pupils into the mainstream. On top of this the attacks on PSA’s go on unremittingly. Our schools cannot function without these highly committed colleagues. It is they who support these children through the most trying and difficult periods of their time in school. All of this is justified in terms of Inclusion! Colleagues, it is a bare faced lie! This is the natural conclusion of the Tories horrific and murderous attack on the people of this country. These cuts must be resisted with all of our collective might! 

Comrades, I believe that in order to tackle the issues we face with workload and behaviour we are going to need to tap into the anger and frustration I mentioned earlier in my speech. To do that is going to require every one of us stepping up their game. We need to be in our schools setting an example. We need to be leading our colleagues on these issues. We need to be the first person putting in the violent incident form, the pain in the arse demanding a pupil risk assessment, the trouble maker down at the headteachers office demanding they take action around issues as they arise, we need to be in our departments reminding colleagues and PT’s what our terms and conditions actually are and not what some may like them to be. We need to be in our LNCT’s demanding our bosses take cognisance of our demands and make them take action, zero tolerance posters in the classrooms, receptions and staffrooms of our schools would be a start. Colleagues we need to ensure we are doing our utmost to engage our members. Organise regular meetings to discuss the issues, put out regular informational emails, share what comes out from the District and HQ. We need to organise to recruit new teachers, both students and probationers. We need our General Secretary and President kicking down John Swinney’s door to demand he take action!

Folk in my school often ask me for advice about this, that and the next thing and what they should do about various issues, colleagues, more often than not my answer is “say you’re not bloody well doing it,” often enough I think I may get it tattooed on my forehead, in Gaelic though cos I like to appear cultured. My mates often rib me asking what does a union rep do anyway? I tell them I’m out putting my life on the line for their jobs! I’m joking but there is an element of truth in that. Obviously it’s not the same union landscape in which courageous men and women have indeed given their lives over the course of the last two centuries fighting for every single right we enjoy today but we do need to be courageous. We need to take our fight to the bosses and demand action! We need to stand up to bullying and disrespectful behaviour from our bosses, parents or kids! We need to make our union an example to all teachers, if we do we can make our jobs the life affirming vocations they once were!

We need to follow the old union maxim of organise, educate, agitate!

Thank you.

17th May 2019

Published on 17 May 2019 - Congress
SSTA

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