It would appear that we are at something of a crossroads in the world of Scottish Education. For the first time since the 80s we appear close to a period of industrial action. So, what are the facts around this dispute?
Teachers usually receive a pay award annually in April but due to failed negotiations the last such award was made in April 2017. Much has been made in the media about the proposed increase but we should be aware that this increase contains elements backdated one year and includes an increase next year. For many in the public sector this looks like the teaching unions biting off their noses to spite their faces. It seems a remarkable deal. So, do you believe it’s really about the money?
Sometimes, we have to take a step back and analyse such situations slowly. If it seems counter-intuitive to turn down what seems a good offer in the current economic climate, might there be other factors at play?
I believe that teachers are passionate about their jobs, passionate about teaching and learning, passionate about getting the climate and culture of education just right, passionate about developing young minds into young adults of whom we can all be proud.
But what teachers endure daily is a system which is often stressed, which is lacking resource, which is over-reliant on goodwill, which is obsessed with paperwork, data and testing, and, above all, I believe the profession feels under-valued, constantly judged and appraised and each innovative idea is prone to fail because of the accountability mechanisms that mean failure must be avoided at all costs. This leads to a system which is overly constricted and lacking in fresh, ‘risky’ ideas. We are playing it safe in Scotland and, in so doing, we’re treading water and quite probably going backwards.
In almost every conversation I have had with an adult regarding their own education, I am always told about the ‘inspiring teacher’ or ‘the teacher that made the difference’. When I first started teaching back in 1989, the teachers around me shared a common view that educating young people was a passion and a joy. I think we are now in danger of seeing education merely in terms of benchmarks and academic outcomes. The education sector in the UK has become quite a stressful environment and when the balance tips in favour of planning, paperwork and assessment, the really vital component of having time to build relationships with individual pupils is in danger of being lost. Time pressure leads to the destabilisation of that very element that should be treasured above all else – the undeniable power of having teachers that are trusted, who treat their students with respect and who have the time to develop the relationship between themselves and their students.
In the final analysis, if there is something in the oft-heard phrase, ‘it depends on the teacher’, then we should be devoting time to ensuring our teachers and students have a common purpose built on mutual respect and trust. We must be cautious that this focus is not lost in an increasingly competitive and performance-related society.
So, when you read about teachers turning down a proposed increase which appears generous, ask yourself what value you place on education and on the profession itself.