Scottish teachers' unions considering strike action over education reforms

Battle over education reform heats up as General Election nears

SCOTLAND’S largest teachers’ union is poised to put pressure on the Scottish Government by debating strike action over increasing workloads and the government’s plans for teacher training reforms.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) will hold its AMG in Perth on Thursday (8 June) amid concerns from teachers and educational experts about proposed new routes into teaching which could mean applicants by-passing university training – like the controversial ‘Teach First’ courses in England.

EIS members based in Renfrewshire have put forward a motion calling for the leadership to consider strike action if, as is expected by some teachers, workload increases become a consequence of new national qualifications.

Over three days, the union will also discuss support for delaying the start of primary school education for children until the age of seven like in nations including Finland.

EIS spokespersons did make clear that any concerns they had over education were not related to the General Election, as education is a devolved issue.

“But of vital importance is protecting the work-life balance and health of Scotland’s teaching professionals.” Larry Flanagan

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the EIS, told CommonSpace: “This year’s annual general meeting opens on the same day that people across the country will go to the polls to vote in the UK general election. Both events will have significant implications for the future of Scottish education and we are certain that teachers and lecturers will be following both the AGM and the election very closely.

“We have an extremely busy agenda at this year’s AGM, with a total of 77 motions up for debate. Key themes will include supporting high-quality comprehensive education, reducing the impact of poverty on young people’s education and life chances, ensuring sufficient staff numbers and keeping down class sizes and enhancing additional support needs provision.

“But of vital importance is protecting the work-life balance and health of Scotland’s teaching professionals.”

On top of the EIS’s concerns about workload was the continuing debate over reforms over teacher training. The Scottish Government, under pressure to increase the number of teachers recruited to Scottish schools, has suggested “developing new routes” in its delivery plan, published last June.

The union will also discuss support for delaying the start of primary school education for children until the age of seven like in nations including Finland.

The Scottish Government says it seeks to attract high qualified individuals to the teaching profession through new schemes, but unions and educational experts fear this could mean a slimming down of the training quality in Scotland. In England, the Teach First program has been criticised as not academically thoughrough enough in equipping new teachers through its process.

Lead research Ian Menter, of the University of Oxford and commissioned by the Scottish Council of Deans of Education, lamented the possible slimming down of the university path to teaching, saying that it gave teachers a “critical edge” in the classroom.

The AGM will also discuss plans, unpopular among teachers, of diverting large parts of the education budget directly to head teachers, bypassing local authorities and what unions call the “slow creep”  of  the introduction of standardised national testing.

Pictures courtesy of Ralph Jopper

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