Scotland

Education system doesn't deserve a kicking, says union leader

Primary class Image copyright PA

The head of Scotland's biggest teachers' union has warned that education should not be used as a political football by critics.

Larry Flanagan criticised how some journalists and politicians "portray a problem as a crisis".

He was speaking at the EIS annual meeting in Perth as delegates confirmed they may strike over pay.

Cosla, which represents local authorities, called for a "large dose of realism" from teaching unions.

EIS general secretary Mr Flanagan said some teachers were fearful that in the run-up to next year's Scottish election, politicians may seek to overplay concerns to score political advantage.

Mr Flanagan said there were also misgivings about the way some popular newspapers covered education, believing they sensationalised problems but did not reflect the reality of the situation in many schools and classrooms.

Addressing delegates, Mr Flanagan said: "It has been interesting to read recently some right-wing commentators having a specific go at the EIS, with one demanding that the first minister should 'take on the EIS'. But on what basis?

"The inference which might be drawn from these comments is that somehow the EIS is the block to 'progress' however that is defined - when the reality is that as Scotland's teachers, we are the vehicle of progress."

'Under-valued'

Mr Flanagan said no-one was suggesting "that everything in Scottish education is perfect - clearly it isn't".

But he said the union was "well aware of the attainment gap" and was working jointly with the Scottish government on issues regarding child poverty.

Image copyright EIS
Image caption Larry Flanagan said the EIS was not a block to progress

A motion calling for a back-dated pay rise was backed overwhelmingly at the conference.

However, any ballot on industrial action is still some way off.

Moving the motion, David Baxter from Dundee said: "A restorative pay rise will boost the economy and is needed to give public sector workers the same spending power they had before austerity and pay freezes and sub-inflation level pay awards."

He added: "Teachers are working, on average, 46.5 hours on a contract that pays them for working 35 hours.

"Teachers are being worked harder, paid less and are being seriously under-valued.

"Teachers have had enough. This is the time to act."

'Very best offer'

Seconding the motion, Mike Callaghan, from Angus, said: "If we do not take action now, after at least five years of pay erosion, when will we?"

Teachers' pay is negotiated nationally through a joint body which involves unions, Cosla and the Scottish government.

Cosla said it had put its "very best offer" to teachers' unions "given the period of austerity we are living through and with the prospect of further pressures to come".

Spokesman Billy Hendry said: "Councils are being more than fair to teachers and it would be difficult for local authorities - but also for the wider public sector workforce - to understand a move to industrial action.

"I would urge the teachers unions to recognise the reality of where we are at this time in the finances of local government and to act with responsibility and accept the offer."

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