Another challenging year
As we approach the end of term, and the end of 2021, we can reflect on another difficult year. Although many advances have been made, and the Covid vaccine programme continues to roll out, the pandemic has remained very much with us over the past 12 months.
Teachers and lecturers have remained at the front line, endeavouring to maintain a high-quality educational experience for Scotland’s young people. This has not been easy as the impact of Covid, and the necessary restrictions and mitigations guarding against it, continue to create significant challenges for us all.
The vaccination programme has clearly helped to keep instances of serious illness at lower levels than was the case at the very height of the pandemic last year. Yet, with overall case numbers still stubbornly high, there is a clear need for continuing caution in education settings and, indeed, more widely.
With the onset of winter, the challenges have become even greater. Good ventilation of classrooms is vital to improve airflow and reduce the risk of airborne spread of the virus. Clearly, this becomes significantly more challenging in the winter months as keeping windows open can result in unacceptably low temperatures for pupils and staff.
Operational challenges are heightened, also, as student and staff absences – either as a result of Covid or from other illnesses such as seasonal flu – create additional difficulties in maintaining uninterrupted learning and teaching activity.
The priority, in keeping schools open, must be to ensure that they remain as safe as possible for students and staff while delivering an appropriate environment for learning and teaching. This does, inevitably, mean that some
essential mitigations must remain in place – such as the continuing use of face-coverings, strong emphasis on hand- washing and the use of sanitisers, and constraints on parental attendance in schools. These remain difficult and unwelcome restrictions for many, but they also remain essential in the continuing battle to keep education running effectively while also reducing the spread of Covid.
Concerns growing over pay
The time is fast approaching when teacher representatives will submit a pay claim for next year through the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers. Yet, we are still awaiting a pay settlement for this year which is now 9 months overdue. Teachers are well aware of the economic situation, and the pressures brought to bear on public finance by the pandemic. But we also know our worth, and can see the pay settlements that have been paid to other groups of workers – in both the public and private sectors – over the past year.
Last December, when we submitted our, very measured, pay claim for 2021-2022, the Consumer Price Index measured inflation at 0.4%. It is now at least ten times that amount, at 4% and still rising. Yet our employers and the Scottish Government continue to offer only a meagre 1.22% pay increase, clearly well below the rate of inflation, to Scotland’s teachers and associated professionals.
This is scant reward for the Herculean efforts of teachers over the past year – efforts that have been repeatedly lauded by politicians at all levels and of all political persuasions as absolutely vital to the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
COSLA and the Scottish Government must be aware that, the longer they drag their feet, the more the cost of living will rise and the more that teachers will become disillusioned and angry over what is being offered on pay. It is time for them to put their money where their mouth is and demonstrate that they truly value education and value teachers.
As we approach the Winter holiday period, and despite all the challenges that we all continue to face, the SEJ would like to offer all our readers good tidings for the Festive Season. We hope that you will be able to enjoy a good break with loved ones, and wish you all the very best in 2022.