ADDRESS TO 164th ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING, DUNDEE, 11th JUNE 2010
GENERAL SECRETARY RONNIE SMITH
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Madam President, Guests, colleagues
I believe this is the 16th occasion on which I have stood up at around noon on the
Friday of our AGM to submit my annual report.
Just 8 months after giving my first ever report, one of my early duties as General
Secretary was to walk through the streets of Edinburgh, in February 1996, at the front
of a march of around 40,000 men women and young people from a very wide cross
section of Scottish society, united in expressing their opposition and resistance to a
diet of cuts in budget and education service provision being visited on our schools and
colleges and universities by a Conservative government in its twilight years.
I wonder how many of those present on that day would ever have imagined that, 14
years later, at the end of the first decade of a new century and millennium, 10,000
would be back on the streets, this time of Glasgow, united in expressing our
opposition to the budget and service cuts being visited upon our schools and colleges
and universities in the twilight years of a Labour Government?
On one view that is deeply disappointing. One might ask if that is all the progress we
have made over the intervening years, that we are back where we started? It only goes
to show that our work will never be done.
There are plenty of people here who are long enough in the tooth to recognise the
cyclical nature of much that happens in education. On pay, for example, we recall the
high points of Houghton, Clegg, Main, McCrone – and the deep troughs in between.
But we should not forget or take for granted the gains that we have made over the last
decade or so. It is only when these come under attack that we will come to appreciate
I won’t rehearse the key points of the 21st Century Agreement. But, as we enter a
period of austerity, the value of the pay platform it provided, built upon by two
successive multi-year agreements, the last of which is now entering its final phase,
will come to be better appreciated.
As job opportunities contract, the worth of the Teacher Induction Scheme will be
better appreciated. Let us never forget that beginning teachers were taking an average
of five years to accrue the necessary two years of probationary service to secure full
imagine what life would be like without this scheme for our new graduates this
August trying to find chances to undertake probation. This scheme was never
designed to create more jobs, but to provide a proper and professional entry path into
the world of teaching.
Even today, members will appreciate the value of the 3,500 additional support staff
brought in to the system as a result of the agreement – but whose numbers are already
being reduced because of front-line service cuts.
And as numbers of promoted posts are squeezed, so diminishing opportunities for
career progression, the value of the Chartered Teacher scheme which puts salary and
professional advancement in the hands of the individual candidate for chartered status,
will also come to be better appreciated.
It is worth recalling these points because there is little doubt we are about to enter a
very long, dark tunnel which will test our members and our Institute to a degree that
few will ever have experienced.
Everything we do is dominated by the context of the economic crisis and the
competition among political parties to see how far and how fast they can go in
adopting measures to reduce the deficit in public finances. We will not have to wait
too long, until Budget day on 22 June, to discover just how bad things are to be.
We are not the first in line. Already in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Ireland –
now Spain and Greece, extreme austerity measures have been adopted. And we have
fellow teachers in some of these countries who have already faced a raft of draconian
measures including pay cuts or freezes, increases in pension contributions,
redundancies or lay-offs, cuts in pension benefits and increases in retirement age
I am unsure just how well or widely understood is the scale of challenge we face in
the coming period. It will test us.
Of course we will rage. Of course we will be angry that our children, our members,
should be made to suffer because of the outrageous, shameless behaviour of an
irresponsible private banking and financial sector.
I can’t be alone in seething when every morning on my way in to work I see the big
billboard advertisements for the Royal Bank of Scotland boasting of how many pupils
have benefited from RBS produced teaching programmes on financial literacy.
But there is a serious point. Never underestimate how quickly the real villains of the
piece will seek to rehabilitate themselves as forces for social good and supposed
models of efficiency.
Never underestimate how quickly they will again insinuate themselves in the
corridors of power. Is it not striking that in all the shenanigans that went on around
the formation of the new government, the biggest test that seemed to matter was not
the politics of it, or the democratic principles at stake – but rather how the markets
We recognise that the economic crisis will cause problems for public finances – but
we do not accept that public spending is the cause of, or contributes to, the crisis. Yet,
almost by stealth, we in the public sector being fingered as the problem. The budget
deficit has to be tackled and the public debt run down as fast as possible in order to
satisfy the markets. So our wages are too high, our pensions too generous, our
holidays too long.
We, as teachers, and the children we teach are to pay for the transfer of private debt
on to the public balance sheet. A bizarre reversal of PFI- I guess we could call it PFR
– Publicly Funded Rescue. It seems nothing is sacred, except for satisfying the
markets. It is astonishing that, so soon after the near economic meltdown suffered, we
are back to “business as usual” and the failed economic imperatives that brought
about this crisis in the first place.
We will see the ground being laid in all sorts of ways for attacks on teachers.
We can expect a hard time in the next pay round because we declined COSLA’s kind
invitation to forego the modest 2.4% April pay rise which was part of our last three
year agreement. We are to forget that inflation is riding high at 5.3%
And the Conservatives, backed by their old friends in the CBI, propose a pay freeze
across the public sector on all who earn more than £18k per annum. Not only do they
want the public sector to take a hit, but within the public sector it is the employees,
their most important resource – their people - who are being expected to bear the
brunt of spending cuts. Isn’t it strange that certain sectors require mega pay and
bonuses to “attract the best people”, but somehow or other we get better teachers by
paying them less?
And the next excuse will be that there is no money because employers are being
dragged screaming and kicking into granting pregnant employees their fundamental
right to receive annual leave foregone when absent on maternity leave. So much for
any commitment to equality and fairness as they seek to wriggle out of a fundamental
Then they will come for our pensions – a softly softly approach, to begin with at least.
A supposedly “independent” commission (does such a thing exist?) to review the long
term affordability of public sector pensions. Yet, we agreed changes just a few years
ago to raise the pension age to 65 and to cap the contributions employers could be
required to make – and the Treasury agreed then that this made our scheme
And we should expect a campaign which will seek to undermine public confidence in
teachers. The BBC Scotland programme last week is a classic example of what I
mean. In the absence of any evidence, they were reduced to digging up such experts
on Scottish education as Chris Woodhead – ex OFSTED and Tory education policy
adviser- to help dream up a figure for the number of supposed incompetents whose
heads are to be lopped off . This quest for the “true” figure is a reminiscent of the
Red Deer Commission’s approach to setting a target for the annual cull.
In times of shortage, politicians and pundits like to talk up the value and quality of
teachers. When they are trying to contract teacher employment, they turn against us
and question our competence and seek to run us down at every turn.
But the “anti-teachers” would do well to look to one of the key characteristics of the
much-vaunted Finnish education system – that is the high levels of public trust and
confidence Finns have in their teachers. When they denigrate teachers they diminish
our youngsters’ education and their chances.
We have a very highly qualified, highly regulated and highly committed and high
performing teaching force in Scotland As a profession we are proud of what we are
and proud of what we do. And we should never be afraid to proclaim that or to be
ready to demonstrate that.
But the whole agenda is cuts-driven.
We have already seen dramatic cuts in places in TEIs for new teachers and we now
see the consequent impact on our members employed in universities’ education
faculties. Not only are we losing the capacity to prepare new teachers – but there will
also be reduced capacity to sustain the CPD needs of the profession.
Across councils we see attacks on instrumental music instruction, the non-
replacement of departing teachers and the reduction in teaching support staff too.
Only last week the GTC follow-up survey of post-probationers revealed that 30% are
either unemployed or sitting at home on a supply list, hoping someone will call to
offer them a bit of work. The worst outcomes since this exercise began.
And last year, in 2009, another 700 teaching posts disappeared out of the system. The
problem is not too many teachers – it’s too few jobs.
Authority after authority will be looking at reorganising – that is a euphemism for
closing down much of – their school provision (and the FE colleges are at that game
too in Glasgow).
It’s all colour coded. In Shetland they talk of their “Blueprint” for education, while in
West Lothian they call it “Blue skies thinking” about future provision.
But let’s be blunt. After a decade of “education, education, education”, we now
enter a decade of “cuts, cuts, cuts”.
The clarion call will be “more for less”. That means growing class sizes so more
pupils can be taught by fewer teachers. And we already see that happening in the
widespread retreat from the maximum of 20 pupils in S1 and 2 Maths and English
classes we were once promised. The failure to embed class size limits in agreements
or statute leaves schools and Authorities the freedom to do that – an indictment of
both the current and the previous Scottish government.
It is remarkable that today is the closing day for a consultation on draft regulations to
limit P1 classes to 25. Three years through the lifespan of the current government,
they haven’t even got round to securing the promise made by the last government!
And it will mean holding down the paybill
- cutting or freezing pay
- diluting professional staff and replacing them with cheaper substitutes.
A glance at what is happening to nursery education tells that story.
I believe teachers will increasingly ask where are our local authorities in all this? In
our1996 demonstration large numbers of local councillors were present and spoke up
strongly and in public for education and the services for which they had
responsibility. I may be wrong, but I was aware of none on the streets of Glasgow in
March. Maybe I read the wrong newspapers, but I can’t recall when I last heard a
councillor actually speak up for education.
All I hear from local government in Scotland is a half-baked idea in East Lothian for
so-called “Trust Schools”, whatever that might be. Almost unbelievably I heard it
described approvingly as an attempt to recreate Parish Schools. God help the future of
Scottish education if the best to which its custodians can aspire is the recreation of an
ancient and discredited form of school provision.
It is disingenuously portrayed as an idea to empower local communities and
headteachers, when, in reality, it is little more than an attempt to slide off major
responsibilities and burdens from the Council on to the shoulders of schools and
Of course, Glasgow is less subtle in its approach – their last education spokesperson
was quite open that dismantling central support staff is about making headteachers
take on more responsibility. I guess he hasn’t read the research on why so few
candidates come forward for Headships.
And perhaps those headteachers who have clamoured for years for more devolved
powers will stop and think a little more carefully about what that really means in the
context of cuts. They should be careful what they wish for.
If local government is serious about being a tier of government, rather than local
administration, it needs to get up off its knees and start to fight for the communities
whose interests they are supposed to represent and the services, the vital public
services, they are trusted to provide. We in the EIS want to believe in and give
support to local government, but the performance of too many councils is eroding
confidence in many quarters. If they are to be little more than agents of blanket cuts
across services, avoiding the adoption of any political priorities, withdrawing from
central support for schools, cutting schools loose to fend for themselves, there may be
better models of school organisation available.
But we must resist any attempt to atomise our schools as is happening in England and
we must always ensure that our schools remain firmly embedded as part of public
service provision and democratically accountable to the communities they serve. The
last thing we need is school governance arrangements modelled on our FE Colleges –
with self perpetuating Boards that look more like the committee of the local golf club
than a democratic and accountable public body.
Colleagues, these are big challenges we have to confront and we need to do so at
different levels. We have just had the UK elections and it is clear that Westminster
government policies will impact on us. But so too will the Scottish Parliament’s
policies and we will need to exercise maximum leverage over the coming year in the
run-up to the elections. That is a time when politicians come closest to being in
Of course the EIS is not aligned to any party and I hope that will always be the case –
that we will always be influenced only by what is right for education.
But we cannot be divorced from politics altogether.
Our ability to secure the tools for the job will depend upon political decisions at all
levels of government- local, Holyrood, Westminster.
At a high level there are political decisions about the speed with which different
parties want to deflate public spending to cut public debt. But there is also a policy
decision to be made on the contribution of fair and progressive taxation – the raising
of revenues, as opposed to the slashing of public spending and services, as a
contribution to cutting the national debt. There are issues around the ongoing freeze of
council tax and the aversion to considering the tax flexibility already available to the
We need to see a rebalancing of political priorities. We need to re-assert the inherent
worth, as well as the economic benefits and contribution to economic wellbeing, of
well funded, good quality public services, such as education. It is neither
economically, nor politically nor socially literate to cut back on investing in the
education of our young people.
But we cannot act alone in this.
Never will it have been more important for us to build alliances – with parents who
rely so much on the once in a lifetime learning opportunity we seek to provide for
their youngsters. They need to be told what the front-line service cuts mean for their
children – the loss of teaching time, the narrowing of the curriculum, the restrictions
on subject choice, the insidious introduction of charging for services.
And we need to explore joint working with other trade unions – teacher unions and
the wider movement through the STUC. Now is the time to focus on what we have in
common rather than on any differences among us.
Our message remains simple and clear
“Why must our children pay”?
There has to be a better way.
And we will need to be nimble – to be smart and thoughtful on how we respond to the
multiple attacks which we will face from so many different quarters at different points
over the coming years.
We will face difficult decisions on how we react
- What opportunities for genuine engagement will we be offered?
- How do we engage?
- When, and in what ways, and on what issues do we adopt an industrial response?
Our public demonstration in March was one of those special and memorable events
that brought together a wide range of stakeholders – but it’s not something you can
repeat every week. There is no doubt that the politics of the pavement has its place,
but it also has its limitations.
Members of Council and its committees will have a big leadership responsibility this
coming year – taking these key decisions, while having regard both to where our
membership stands and also the wider context in which we operate.
At the very time we enter a period of extreme austerity we stand at a critical point in
moving forward on the major curricular reform of Curriculum for Excellence. The
truth is that, right across the profession, there are very mixed views about it. Some are
evangelical about it, some are content with it, some are sceptical, some are downright
opposed and many are unsure, unclear and unprepared. That is the reality.
It is not for me to add anything to the debate we have had this morning. But one thing
is clear, that is that any inherent problems with CfE are exacerbated by this project
moving forward at a time of retrenchment. Looking ahead – particularly in this period
as political parties prepare their manifestos for the upcoming Scottish elections – local
authorities and the Scottish Government will need to adjust their appetites and
ambitions for change to take account of the new realities being imposed on our
classrooms and the reduced resources made available to us.
Teachers understand they will have to contribute to the painful process of repairing
the public finances.
Teachers understand their first duty is to continue to provide the best education they
can for the youngsters in their charge.
But we will not be the fall-guys for others’ fecklessness.
We must not allow this to be an excuse for government to transfer public education
provision into the hands of the private sector opportunists. There are plenty of them
waiting in the wings, salivating at the prospect of education being opened up to the
And we cannot have education provision transferred to the so-called 3rd sector, to be
run by charities – a 3rd world model of provision.
And we must not allow governments or employers to take advantage of this national
crisis and use it as a smokescreen, as an excuse, to row back from the terms and
conditions we collectively agreed to work under.
The Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers is a tripartite body – unions,
COSLA and the Scottish Government – and all partners in that body would do well to
remember not just the letter, but also the spirit, the new ways of working, the collegial
approach, set out in the 2001 Agreement. Those who are committed to a high quality
public education service need to find common ground and work together.
I believe our members want us to continue working in that partnership, that model of
collegiality referred to by the President in her speech yesterday- but that can only
happen if all the partners agree to participate, difficult though that may be in the
The main threat to that consensus comes from the changes we have seen, and are
about to see.
Few if any councillors involved in the 2001 agreement are still around. Almost as
usual in this report, I must acknowledge the departure of one Education Minister and
welcome her replacement. I thank Fiona Hyslop for her work and wish her well in her
And I welcome Mike Russell – to the most insecure job in the Cabinet. He is the 10th
minister with whom I have engaged in my fifteen and a half years as general
secretary. That’s one more than the number of husbands Zsa Zsa Gabor has had.
He has a big job to do and not too much time left before the next election to deliver on
the policy promises made in the run-up to the last election. I am sure that our
members next Spring will be weighing up, not only the prospectuses being offered up
by the parties for the next Parliament, but also their performance and delivery in the
Colleagues, it is not just Ministers who change. The EIS itself is going through a
phase of significant transition. On Monday, Veronica Rankin enters retirement having
worked for the EIS since 1991, first as an Area Officer and latterly, since 1996, as
Education & Equality Officer. I thank Veronica for her work and wish her well for the
future. And I look forward to welcoming her successor, Steven McCrossan who will
join us in August.
The President yesterday named five past Presidents who are leaving Council as they
enter retirement. I wish to add my thanks to them for their contribution to the work of
the EIS over so many years.
But I also wish to record my gratitude to Bob Birrell who is stepping down as
Convener of the Board of Examiners after 14 years and I welcome Norma Watson as
his successor. These are two people with whom I worked very closely right from the
start of my own EIS involvement.
All told, 24 of our 135 member Council will not be serving after this AGM. It is a
huge corpus of knowledge and experience being lost to the EIS.
And I know there are other important workers on behalf of the EIS who will also be
leaving – they may not have been active at national level but have done sterling work
as establishment representatives and local association activists, the level at which so
many members interact with their union and to which the focus is increasingly
moving. I thank them too for the valuable contribution they have made.
As I said earlier, our work will never be done.
- We will need a strong and committed Institute to face the changes and challenges
that lie ahead.
- We will need to work harder than ever to recruit new members from what will
almost certainly be a shrinking pool of teachers over the next few years.
- We will need to renew our activist base to take on the representative and advocacy
work that is our bread and butter business.
- And we will need to renew our leadership to guide and steer us through the troubled
waters that lie ahead.
The EIS has come through many challenging times in its 163 year history. I am
confident it can do so again.
So, let’s be proud of what we are – of being teachers, of being teacher unionists
let’s be proud of what we do, as teachers and as teacher unionists.
And it’s what we DO that really matters.
I ask all of you to keep in mind the words of Vergil’s Aeneid (with which you are no
doubt all familiar)
“stat sua cuique dies;
breve et irreparabile tempus omnibus est vitae ;
sed famam extendere factis hoc virtutis opus”
Everyone has their appointed day……
For all of us Life is brief and irrevocable;
but it is the work of virtue to extend our fame by our deeds
Colleagues, there is much to be done. And if we don’t do it for Scotland’s children
and young people – who will?