Report of the General Secretary - 75th Annual Congress

Friday 17th May 2019

We are in the 75th year of the SSTA and the issues of 1944 are the same issues in 2019. Examples of these have been taken from our 50th anniversary and are contained within the Congress Agenda you have today. We will include stories of the last 25 years in next year’s addition.

Concerns over pay, workload and pupil behaviour appear throughout our history and will probably do so for a good number of years to come.

At our congress last year – the call was for ‘Retention, Recruitment and Restoration’.

1. Retention – The first priority was to keep the teachers we have. It made no sense not to value the experienced teachers we have and any attempt to focus on recruitment would miss the point.

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

2. Recruitment – the second priority was to encourage more people into the profession.

We needed 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.

3. Restoration – the third priority

To address the shortfall of teachers’ salaries over the last 10 years the main grade teacher salary should be in the region of £43,000.

The SNCT claim was for 10% pay increase. This 10% claim was the first step in a restorative pay claim. The Government needed to support and value its teachers by making a major effort to restore teacher pay levels.

The Pay Campaign and the three issues

Pay was the first issue

Before last year’s Congress pay negotiations were underway but little could be reported.

The SSTA took its place at the negotiating table alongside our EIS partners with the employers (COSLA) and the Government. The Government side was keen to move forward but COSLA was resistant to offering a bigger increase to teachers than to other council employees. Numbers were being discussed but no formal offer made.

During the autumn term teachers across Scotland were getting annoyed at the lack of progress on teachers’ pay. Both SSTA and EIS were preparing for a long struggle and a strategy to achieve a positive outcome.

The SSTA Salaries and Conditions of Service Committee had been active throughout from making the pay claim, determining the pay campaign strategy and consulting with members.

The SSTA and EIS worked together and prepared a campaign, and as you know a campaign with many twists and turns. The October teachers rally in Glasgow where teachers from all unions stood side by side to send a message to the Government and the employers that teachers were prepared to act and fight for a significant improvement in pay.

The first SSTA consultative ballot in November had a 76% membership response with a resounding 97% rejection of a divisive and derisory offer.

This was followed by a school representative opinion survey in January. The survey was conducted at very short notice with close to 2/3rds of our membership participating. I cannot pass without a big thank you to all our SSTA Reps in our schools on mobilising members on this occasion. But also their work in supporting and caring for our members every day in our schools.

This was followed by the second consultative ballot based upon the information received following our school rep opinion survey. Yet again our membership came out in force with a 76% response with 64% of members prepared to accept the pay offer.

There was another turn as EIS successfully sought a further increase but SSTA was still there at the negotiating table trying to reach a resolution for all teachers. The pay deal was agreed in April and hopefully the back pay and increases will be with you all soon.

Following the pay campaign. The top of the main grade in 2018 was £36,480. As from April 2019 the top of the main grade is £40,206 rising to £41,412 in April 2019.

This not the level we need to reach but it is a good step in the right direction. When the pay negotiations start again “Restoration” will be top of the list. But what we have achieved so far shows what can be achieved if we and sister unions work together.

This campaign has been a success but it could not have happened without the support of our members in schools, all our reps in schools and at local authority level. And of course all the members who are here at Congress, those on SSTA Council and Committees who further the work of the Association.

A Big Thank You must go to you for all the work that you do, regardless of how big or how small it is all appreciated. This is your success and well done.

The second issue – Teachers are demoralised by the never-ending and increasing teacher workload.

More new initiatives, more tracking and monitoring, more record keeping, more personalised learning plans, more accountability for every move and every decision a teacher makes, and of course a national qualification system that appears to go out of its way to dream up new ways to increase teacher bureaucracy.

Granted it is not all of SQA making but headteachers and local authorities demanding the ‘belt and braces’ approach of completing units just in case the pupil falls through the gap. Units were retained by the Deputy First Minister for the exception. For example, the pupil that had missed school during a long period of illness.

The SSTA said at the time that schools couldn’t resist the opportunity to carry on using the units as they are rarely concerned about teacher workload. The real reason units are being used is not in the interest of the pupils but in the interests of schools and local authorities. Their interest of pushing-up the ‘Insight’ scores and place up the fabricated and narrow measure of a school the league tables. This unfortunately, highlights how little teacher professional judgement is valued and the lack of trust shown by many in senior positions in the world of education.

But none if this would be necessary if schools, local authorities and Government would trust teachers’ professional judgement in placing pupils in the correct course, allowed a common course for all Nat 4 and Nat 5 pupils so that all pupils in the class could all be taught together. This would cut teacher and pupil workload in a stroke. 

The Government must mean what is says and put pupils at the centre, allow teachers to teach, put appropriate assessment in place for all pupils at all levels across the secondary school. As more and more pupils are staying in education it is time for a review of the Curriculum and National Qualifications. This is not an opportunity to start all over, but to talk to teachers (the unions who represent and speak for teachers) but identify what works, what is appropriate and put a plan together for implementation.

It is time for teachers to take back control of their workload. Agree sensible and properly accounted for Working Time Agreements that recognise the professional judgment of the teacher.

The teacher must be allowed to make decisions on what is a priority, what is appropriate to prepare for lessons, the how and the structure of the lesson, the method of assessment, and be trusted to present pupils for national qualifications.

All must be achievable within the Working Time Agreement when the time is used teachers need to say NO.  The days of ‘it is in the interest of the children’ or ‘you don’t care about the children’ needs to stop. These bullying tactics to undermine teachers and their right to a work-life balance must end.

Now is the time for teachers to take back the profession from the bureaucrats and ‘bean counters’. Teachers and teacher unions must work together in every school to bring about this change.

The third issue for teachers is pupil behaviour.

Throughout the pay campaign the message from members was clear please do something to address pupil behaviour. The facts show over the last ten years that austerity measures have caused the number of teachers to be reduced, the number of specialist teachers to be severely cut and the range of other education support staff working in schools has practically disappeared.

At the same time number of pupils with Additional Support Needs has more than doubled from 98,523 in 2011 to 199,065 in 2018. But the number of pupils with Individual Education Plans has fallen from 42,819 in 2011 to 35,566 in 2018.

How can numbers be going-up at the same time as IEPs are going down? Each of the IEPs has a resource implication therefore, you cut the number and you cut the cost. As we speak Highland Council is planning to cut its ASN provision as tries to save money.

This means that teachers are having to manage increasing complex pupil needs without specialist support. Increasing number of pupils being denied the additional support they need and an increase in pupil frustration. Pupils with ASN are being pushed into classes without specialist support, they are unable to access the curriculum, and it is all left at the door of the classroom teacher.

The pupils can’t cope the teachers are demoralised and feeling like failures as they can’t meet the needs of all their pupils. Nobody wins. The Government and local authorities are failing both pupils and teachers by not putting money into ASN to address the needs of pupils and support teachers. It is no wonder the number of violent incidents and incidents of disruption in schools is increasing.

The SSTA survey on ‘Violent Incidents’ is again another example of the failure of the system to support pupils and teachers.

 The SSTA survey found that

  • 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 reported feeling unsupported in trying to maintain good discipline and order in schools. The constant statistical drive to reduce permanent and temporary exclusions is putting tremendous pressures on schools, its teachers and other education support staff.

Exclusion has come to be seen as evidence that the headteacher, the teachers and the school are failing the pupils, 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 all of the time.

And when members were asked ‘Did you report the incident?’

  • 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.

This lack of reporting can be seen clearly when only 33% said they felt supported or received feedback after the incident.

Local authorities need to be the support to the schools in helping pupils that are unable to cope in the school environment and not the barrier to good discipline and order they have become.

SSTA Advice to Members

  • All Teachers must be able work in safe and unthreatening environment
  • Report all incidents of violence (verbal and physical) and expect a report of actions taken
  • Reporting systems must a single entry process and not be unnecessarily bureaucratic
  • A ‘Risk Assessment’ must be carried out following all incidents that outlines the strategies and process to avoid further incidents occurring (in the event of serious violence the pupil may need to be excluded from the school).
  • Report all threatening and violent incidents to the police

The same three issues as 75 years ago in 1944. Maybe it is time to bring about change.

Teacher Career Pathways Review

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.

The report is due to be published at the end of the month. It has the potential to retain teachers in the profession and let them see a range of other opportunities on their career journey.

A career pathway that recognises curricular specialism, pedagogical and policy specialism that runs in parallel with the existing leadership/management routes will be welcomed. The review will only benefit the profession if it allows all teachers to be valued and respected for their knowledge, skills and experiences.

If it is only for a chosen few, controlled by those who don’t see the future of education, and poorly resourced it will be doomed to failure and a golden opportunity to retain teachers will have been lost.

The last area I want to raise today is the place of the teacher and our union within the education system. SSTA members are demanding to be heard.

The Teacher Voice

The Government often refer to teacher unions as stakeholders with the same place as other stakeholders. On the outside looking in.

Parents, community groups, businesses, the GTCS, the SQA, education officers, politicians and others could be called stakeholders in education. I am not however convinced that pupils are stakeholders, or consumers, or customers or something else. I will leave that for you to determine.

But one thing I do know is that teacher trade unions are not stakeholders. Teacher unions are Partners in education. Teacher unions represent its members, are the voice of its members, and most importantly is accountable to its members.

Government and others must not by-pass teacher unions, by selecting teachers, headteachers, organisations that only represent in most cases themselves. They don’t represent the profession and are not accountable to the profession.

The Government tries to gather about itself those who will not challenge it and then justify the decisions it makes by saying it consulted stakeholders.

Teacher unions are ‘partners’ in education and must be given the proper respect, must be listened to and have their views taken seriously if we want an education service for the future.

Without the teachers there is no education. That is why the teacher voice is essential in shaping and delivering education. All the education bureaucrats and stakeholders need to see their place as supporting teachers in the classroom. The days of the ‘back seat driver’ in telling teachers what to do needs to stop.

As the SSTA sets its course for the next 75 years - we have the power if we only chose to use it.