Oh dear – it’s difficult to know where to begin with Andy Maciver’s intemperate, inaccurate and ill-judged diatribe (in the Herald newspaper) against Scottish education in general and “teacher unions” specifically.
Our schools face significant challenge in delivering equitable educational outcomes in a society which seemingly tolerates growing levels of economic inequality amongst its children, more plainly experienced as poverty by one in four pupils, and where teachers are required to undertake the mounting challenge of dealing with additional support needs and post covid behaviours with minimal targeted resources. Notwithstanding the challenge, Scotland’s education system if not “failing” as Mr Maciver asserts. Scotland ranked 4th in the most recent OECD survey of Global Competencies, a measure attested to by Andrea Schleisser, Director of Education at the OECD, as the critical metric for 21st Century education systems.
Mr Maciver claims “to have no real issue” with the recently agreed pay rise for teachers but bizarrely rants against the teacher unions who negotiated said settlement, as if somehow teachers are different from teaching unions. Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, which I was General Secretary of for 10 years, is a member led organisation where elected teachers conduct discussions at all levels on behalf of members and where members themselves make critical decisions through the democratic process of balloting.
His claim that unions are “largely disinterested” in matters beyond pay is simply unsustainable – go online and read the detailed, researched and informed position papers the EIS has submitted on every issue under discussion in Scottish education, including the current reform agenda.
His reference to the 2018 Education Bill is factually inaccurate. It is true that the John Swinney was persuaded by a range of voices, including the EIS and, critically, the Government’s own International Council of Education Advisors to take a collaborative partnership approach to achieving the aims of the Bill rather than going down a legislative pathway which would undoubtedly have led to the poisonous binary approach of Scotland’s politicians. But rather than “killing” the ambition of the bill. It did in fact deliver it though an “Empowerment Agenda”, including a Headteachers’ Charter, which was supported by all within the education system.
Rather than being a “malevolent” force in the above scenario, the EIS was a constructive partner in successful social dialogue construct.
I represented the EIS on the Government’s Covid Education Recovery Group (CERG). I struggle to understand how seeking effective mitigations around school reopening so that school staff, pupils and their families were as safe as possible can be described as “malevolent”.
I understand that Mr Maciver has some historical connection with the Conservative Party but when I have seen him on television panels he always struck me as quite balanced in his approach. Not on this occasion. His bitter, anti teacher union rhetoric could have come straight out of No 10’s playbook. I avoid social media – it’s a place where reasoned debate is set aside in favour of outrage, anger and bile. I regret that these traits are appearing so frequently in opinion pieces.
Larry Flanagan was General Secretary of the EIS from 2012 – 2022, having previously worked as a teacher for 33 years. He continues to be a registered teacher, doing occasional supply work.