5 tensions between teachers and the Scottish Government that will surface at the EIS conference


CommonSpace provides a rundown of the points of tension between educators and the Scottish Government’s education reforms

THE EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SCOTLAND (EIS) Annual General Meeting (AGM) is taking place from Thursday 9 June to Saturday 11 June, and will make decisions affecting the collective action of Scotland’s largest teachers union.

The conference comes at a time of tensions between the educational community and the Scottish Government.

The SNP was re-elected in the 2016 Scottish Elections on a promise to reform Scottish education and close the gap between the achievements of the poorest and richest pupils.

However its proposed reforms have been heavily criticised by Scotland’s largest teaching union, and this will find expression over the course of the conference.

CommonSpace highlights five tensions to look out for during the AGM.

1) Education reform

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon campaigned throughout the Scottish election on education reform, particularly on closing the so called ‘attainment gap’ – the difference in educational achievement between the poorest and richest students.

Key to these efforts is the creation of a National Improvement Framework, at the heart of which is a new regime of standardised testing for pupils in primary school years one, four and seven, and secondary school year three. The Scottish Government claims the testing is necessary so that more information can be gathered on the educational standards of pupils, in order to tackle the attainment gap.

A second element of the push to close the gap is an increase in the Attainment Scotland Fund to £750m – £100m of which will go directly to head teachers.

These reforms will be carried out by the new minister for education, John Swinney.

Swinney’s appointment was meant as an indication of how seriously the Scottish Government is taking its commitment to education. He is widely seen as the second most senior member of the government besides Sturgeon.

However many teachers will be watching his performance closely, and his lack of a background in education may be an issue for some.

2) Standardised testing

A confrontation between EIS and the Scottish Government over standardised testing became apparent as soon as plans to introduce the new regime were announced in September 2015.

Teachers worry that the standardised test puts strain on children and will be used to construct league tables for schools, pitting teachers and schools against each other.

The Scottish Government have said that the tests will instead be a tool for teachers to understand pupils’ needs.

Motion 10 at the AGM, put forward by the Dumfries and Galloway local associaition, calls for a boycott of the testing if its final form is not acceptable to the union.

It reads: “That this AGM resolve that, if the Scottish Government imposes a system of national testing that is unacceptable to the EIS, all members in primary and secondary schools will be balloted on a boycott of the administration and reporting of the test results or of any CfE levels that are derived from them.”

The motion will be considered on Friday morning (10 June), or may carry over into Saturday morning.

3) Workload

All three of Scotland’s teaching unions EIS, NASUWT and Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) are currently lobbying the government or balloting for industrial action over workload, which probably constitutes the most consistent complaint of teaching professionals.

SSTA members recently voted in an indicative ballot to support strike action over excessive workloads.

Teachers unions have long argued that the best way to reduce workload and improve attainment is to increase the number of teachers.

Motion 24 from Glasgow local association reads: “That this AGM call on Council to highlight and publicise the serious impact of teacher shortages on pupils’ learning and teaching and overall attainment. Furthermore, it should also publicise the detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing and workload of teachers in schools where there are staff shortages.”

It will go to a vote on Saturday morning.

4) Curriculum for Excellence

The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) was implemented in Scottish schools in 2010-11, and was the subject of some hopes for bringing in a more modern, flexible and pluralistic approach to education.

Teachers’ unions have claimed both that standardised testing and league tables are incompantible with CfE, and that its central aims still have not been met.

Motion 18 from Glasgow local association, which will likely be voted on on Saturday morning, reads: “That this AGM call on Council to campaign for a decluttering of the Primary Curriculum as promised in CfE.”

5) Local authorities and head teachers

Another controversy in educational circles is the growing policy mood at Holyrood for a move away from funding schools exclusively through local authorities, and towards giving some funds to head teachers.

A portion of the Scottish Government funding for measures to close the attainment gap will go directly to head teachers.

Scottish Conservatives education policy places a heavy emphasis on ending what it calls a ‘one size fits all’ model of school funding, and calls for greater autonomy for schools and in particular for head teachers.

This is still a world away from some of the more radical proposals for schools which are completely autonomous from local authorities, put forward by the Hometown Foundation. This thinktank have helped to arrange a series of bids by parents at several schools to establish their own schools with direct funding from the Scottish Government.

Picture courtesy of duncan c

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