Report of the General Secretary

SSTA General Secretary, Seamus Searson

SSTA General Secretary Report to Congress 2022

Friday 13 May 2022

Dear Colleagues, it is a great pleasure to stand before you and see so many familiar faces and so many new faces in the room as we try to return to a normal SSTA Congress. Unfortunately, I unable to see the 20 plus delegates who are joining us virtually today. I would also like to welcome the large number of members, guests and observers who are joining us online today. I believe the way we organise Congress has changed and will not be the same again.

I would like to thank the Crieff Hydro for accommodating us again and a big thank you to Tapestry for providing all the technology to enable such an event to be carried here in Crieff and some many other places all at the same time.

I must thank the SSTA Head Office Staff Andrew, Laura and Clare who have been busy for months making all the arrangements for Congress and ensuring that we all have a brilliant event. This Congress just highlights the commitment and enthusiasm of SSTA members across the country.

I can’t stop there as I must mention members of the secretariat Assistant General Secretaries Fiona, Iain and Euan and Catherine or Professional Officer who done an amazing job supporting members throughout the pandemic.

The pandemic created a scenario that none of us could have expected. Secondary teachers went beyond all expectations to deliver national qualifications despite all the hurdles, to ensure our young people did not lose out. Secondary teachers kept education on track and did their best to keep teaching and learning taking place and give some stability to all our young people.

Last October I said that the 1000s of Scottish secondary teachers were a credit to the teaching profession. I applauded the professionalism and determination of teachers to succeed in such difficult and dangerous circumstances in the service of our young people.

You played your part in delivering education when the schools were closed, keeping the schools open and allowing society and the economy to return to some form of normality.

Today we are on the verge of a new era in Scottish education. The things that we have accepted as normal, if there ever could be anything normal in education, is about to change. But we must learn from the past and not make the same mistakes again.

As you all know, the Government is embarking on a new direction for education. The various OECD reports, the International Panel of Experts reports, the recent Professor Ken Muir Education Reform report and the forthcoming Reforming Qualifications and Assessment Review being conducted by Professor Louise Hayward that is due by the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the track record of the Government on some of these reviews is to ignore the teacher trade union voice. It often appears that the Scottish Government that the teachers voice is a selected few individuals, that have no mandate but are speaking on behalf of teachers. This is merely a tick box exercise like most consultations. They don’t represent the profession and are not accountable to the profession, and most importantly they do not represent the SSTA.

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.

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 this time or the same mistakes will be made.

It was well documented during the pandemic the admiration teachers received particularly from the parents who struggled with ‘home schooling’ when the schools were closed. I said I was hopefully this admiration would be more than just words but a real reward for the efforts of teachers not only during the pandemic but every day in every school in Scotland.

In 2019 I talked about teachers’ pay, teachers’ career progression and teacher workload. And they are, I am sad to say, still the same issues today for all teachers in Scotland.

It cannot be underestimated the importance of teachers’ pay in the battle to retain and recruit teachers in Scotland. The performance of COSLA who represent the employers in delaying for more than a year to reach an agreement with the teacher unions for pay due on the 1 April 2021 is in excusable. What was finally offered in March 2022 could have been offered a year before when inflation was below 2%.

In the previous pay deal, there was a focus on increasing the pay of newly qualified teachers and the pay scale was reduced to 5 points and an enhanced starting salary. This was a recruitment measure and there was an understanding that the issue of retention was to be addressed in 2021. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

The SSTA has repeatedly argued that retention must be the priority and keeping the teachers we have. It makes no sense not to value the experienced teachers and any attempt to focus on recruitment alone would miss the point.

The SSTA is serious about a restorative pay deal that acknowledges and rewards those teachers who have served their time and give so much. Teachers at the top of the pay scale and those in management positions need to see a major change in salary levels.

The SNCT pay claim for April 2022 is 10%, it should be probably more considering the increases in the cost of living and the additional national insurance contributions.

I have said before 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 into schools.

Unfortunately, all these things are lacking. The career structure is diminishing with management positions with increasing workload demands dwindling away. In our recent management survey, many members reported having low amounts of management time with 20% reporting that they received no management time at all.

A common theme is the expectation that they need to do far more than what appeared within their job description. Many of our members said that most of their time had been taken-up taking cover or ‘fire-fighting’ rather than any of their main management responsibilities. Is it any wonder many of our members are reluctant to undertake such roles and probably in truth these are the exact people who know their limitations, what is possible and what is not, that should be encouraged in to these positions.

It does not take a genius to work out that if you reduce the number of people in management positions in schools the bigger their jobs become. Together with the ever-increasing demands by Government, Education Scotland, SQA and local authorities, the bigger the jobs become and the more unmanageable and the more stressed the post holders become.

The Teacher Career Pathways Review offered so much to further the career aspirations for teachers but has ended up sitting on a shelf gathering dust. The many months and countless hours of people’s time taken to develop the report has stumbled on the doorstep of COSLA. Only one element has resulted in an SNCT agreement. In August 2021 ‘Lead Teacher’ can into existence but to date not one single teacher has been appointed or is likely to be in the near future. The only other outcome has been the development of a self-funded secondment that sounds just like a career break. Another opportunity for retaining teachers has been lost.

The school-based Lead Teacher will remain a classroom teacher and should not be regarded as part of the school’s management structure. Lead Teachers would function alongside and complement the existing leadership roles, structures and posts, bringing clear additionality to the system through supporting the professional learning of colleagues. Lead teachers offer salaries starting at £47,000 up to £67,000 what a boost that would be for the profession and an acknowledgement of the importance of the classroom teacher.

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

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.

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 at 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.

The SNCT claim 10% pay increase is for all grades. This 10% claim must be the next 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 British and Irish Group of Teacher Unions (BIGTU) have resolved to support all teachers across these islands to achieve a salary that reflects their professionalism and equally address the excessive workload that has become the norm in all of our jurisdictions.

I call upon all the teacher unions across these islands to work together in every school to ensure that teachers are paid properly and that drastic reductions in teacher workload is achieved. This joint movement has already begun and the first battle is our 10% for all teachers at all grades.

Published on 13 May 2022 - Congress