I’m All Right, Jock

Peter Sellers fans—and readers already carrying a bus pass—may recall his merciless portrayal of “bruvvah” Fred Kite and his heroic antics at preventing upper-class twit Ian Carmichael from inadvertently causing efficiency among the work force of a munitions factory in Boulting’s under-rated but brilliant 1959 “I’m All Right Jack”. This all flashed before my eyes when The Big Picture arrived on my doormat today. Unstapled and amateurish, I was about to recycle another tree-wasting circular when I realised that it was the EIS manifesto. How fortunate that I did: only Peter Sellers himself could have made it more entertaining.

The Educational Institute of Scotland likes to think that it speaks for all teachers but it couches everything as if its interests were indistinguishable from those of children and the future welfare of this country. That, in fact, it speaks for a fairly large number of primary school teachers and not much else is not made clear. Nonetheless, it does so in a way of which Fred Kite would be immensely proud.

Before proceeding farther, let me say that I have much sympathy for teachers and the way in which their profession was rather marginalised as part of the Tory colonial (mis-?)rule of Scotland in the eighties and nineties. By the millennium, teachers’ pay had fallen well behind other professionals with whom it had once been comparable and many teachers felt, rightly, that their extracurricular work (like after-school clubs, sports & theatre outings, etc.) was neither properly compensated nor acknowledged.

In May 2000, the report of the McCrone Inquiry into professional conditions of service for teachers was published. Authored by Prof Gavin McCrone this took a broad view of how to recover a sense of professional dedication among teachers that many felt had been lost. As education had been devolved to the new Scottish Parliament, this milestone document was seized upon by the then-Labour/Lib-Dem administration as a balm to soothe understandable unrest among teachers. Unfortunately, few in that administration seem either to have read or to have understood its wider scope. An agreement A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century was hatched by an Implementation Group that reads like a Scottish Labour Who’s Who (Jack McConnell, Sam Galbraith, Norman Murray, etc)

What had been a broad discussion on the profession of teaching was rather narrowed, with new pay and conditions featuring heavily in both political grandstanding by the politicians and teachers, most especially their unions with EIS foremost among them. While a number of innovations such as Chartered Teachers and more flexibility in work remained from the original report, details like that were lost in the general backslapping about what a good deal this was. Teachers’ pay would rise by over 30% within two years; their unions trumpeted a victory; the politicians rushed to congratulate themselves.

In those halcyon days when the Scottish budget jumped in dizzy increments from £16bn in 1999 to £32bn in 2009, no-one noticed that the new teaching emperor had no clothes for chillier times. As a result, extra teachers were hired to cover the new lesson preparation times, pupil support was extended so teachers could teach and council education budgets doubled in a decade (East Lothian’s £50m in 2000 was £104m by 2010). But once the current budget strictures hit, big cracks showed in the edifice.

Because nobody had actually required any outcomes for all this doubling largesse, any closing of stable doors now is futile. Anyone analysing the Agreement of which the Implementation Group were so proud in 2001 will be struck by how proud Fred Kite would have been of it. It is full of gradings and pay scales and the language of union jobsworths but says bugger all about how well our kids are to be taught and how we are ever going to know whether they are or not. It is a shop steward’s wet dream.

So, fast forward to today and examine the EIS website. Is it full of admonitions to its members of how best to inspire their charges? Does it outline how well its motivated professional members achieve that inspiration? Not a bit of it. Fred Kite haunts every line. Their response to the recent McCormac Report: “Advancing Professionalism in Teaching – Report of the Review of Teacher Employment”?

  1. “a list of duties for teachers and associated professionals, as set out in Part 2 of the SNCT Handbook, should be retained;
  2. Appendix 2.6 of the Handbook should be retained;
  3. a contractual working week of 35 hours should be retained;
  4. a weekly class contact maximum of 22.5 hours should be retained;
  5. the existing clearly defined time allocated to personal time and time allocated to the collective work of schools should be retained;
  6. mechanisms to ensure that school based decisions on the use of time remaining are subject to agreement should be retained.”

blah…blah…blah. Not all unions have as soul-destroying a mindset as the EIS—but surely one is too many, especially when it is involved in teaching our children. But decades of Ronnie Smith as its belligerent General Secretary has made it legendary in the yes-what-we-have-is-OK-but-more-is-always-better approach. Although Ronnie retired this year, and Alan Munro publishes their manifesto, his voice echoes spectral-like throughout:

  • “why must children pay?” as if the fiscal wealth of teachers were any measure of children’s learning
  • “education must be defended against any budget cuts” as if the elderly, the vulnerable or the homeless are, by definition, less important than teachers
  • “teacher numbers may start to decline and pupil numbers to rise” as if this were fact (not in East Lothian) and as if teachers were exempt from any effects of the downturn
  • “establish national staffing standards” as if schools on Canna and in Craigmiller can be standardised so that union negotiators have an easier time of it
  • “protecting teacher professional development” yet Chartered Teachers, trumpeted in the 2001 Agreement, have been discarded by teachers as a career path
  • “improving levels of support staff working” when most schools have a half-dozen each of administrative and support staff; both far exceed numbers of even 10 years ago
  • “class sizes must be reduced to 20” as if school buildings could magically be rebuilt with, say, 15 classrooms for 20, instead of 10 for 30—& no hint where this s/b priority

It may be axiomatic that unions exist to serve the interests of their members. But, in discussions with teachers over the first year of Westminster cuts that came in 2010/11, the EIS had one year to run on a 2.5% annual pay increase. All other council employees—including councillors—had their pay frozen. When EIS were asked to forego their rise, else it might mean reducing teacher numbers to make the budget stretch, they declined. It seems that even their members’ jobs come second to keeping up pay levels.

What is perhaps most revealing is that, in all the acres of small print and among pictures of thirteen children, ‘teachers’ are mentioned almost 200 times but ‘teaching’ only 20. ‘Pupil’ gets only 56 mentions and ‘children’ a measly 11—half as often as ‘government’. The 41 mentions of ‘development’ all apply to teachers: none to pupils. For the biggest union involved with teaching our children, such a manifesto comes across as an unedifying, egregious piece of self -serving claptrap. If I were one of the many professional teachers that I know, I would reconsider my membership in such a selfish, narrow-minded outfit.

But, at least the recycling will benefit.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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