2023 has been a packed year for everyone in Scottish education, and for the EIS and all of its members. In schools, our members took part in the first industrial action campaign over pay for four decades, while members in both the Further and Higher education sectors were also in dispute on a range of issues – including pay and jobs.
The launch of the EIS Stand up for Quality Education campaign in June shone a light on the many challenges facing teachers and schools related to a lack of resources, cuts to ASN support, the rising tide of pupil indiscipline, and the continuing increase in teacher workload.
Here, we look back on 2023, and hear the thoughts of some senior activists on the key issues over the past year.
National and Local Action
Is it bad that my favourite national thing was also my favourite local thing?
The Inverclyde EIS pay rally on February 6th wasn’t just a highlight of the past year, I’m sure it will be a highlight of my trade union life when I come to retire.
We were the last of the 16 days of rolling action, we were twinned with Shetland, and we knew all eyes would be on us as that stage of the campaign drew to a close. And as ever, Inverclyde didn’t disappoint!
Almost 250 teachers congregated in a local hotel to hear speakers in Greenock and via video-link to Shetland – we chanted, we sang songs, we did a really short march, purely for the photo opportunity, and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been prouder!
Taking Pride in our 175th anniversary year
The last year has been one of the most amazing years of my life. I saw some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, wonderfully enhanced by pink and green, stood on picket lines in the snow, and most importantly, met reps and members from the vast majority of our 32 local associations.
It was particularly special to wear a Pay Attention t-shirt as I marched over the Sydney Harbour Bridge with Pride. It was a real privilege to be part of the leadership of the EIS during this historic year. Not only did we celebrate our 175th anniversary, making us the world’s oldest teacher trade union, and take our members out on the first sustained strike action since the 1980s, but we appointed our first female General Secretary.
This has been a year that opened my eyes to the great power that Trade Unionism has in defending democracy, changing culture and signalling solidarity.
EIS President 2022-2023
Protecting our members
The Employment Relations Committee are tasked with managing the Benevolent Fund, legal affairs, and health and safety matters.
The Committee act as the Board of Trustees of the Benevolent Fund and receives requests for benevolent support from individual members through local correspondents. Between June 2022 and August 2023, the Committee met seven times and awarded 209 grants amounting to £596,000. The number of grants awarded has almost doubled when compared with the previous year.
This year, the Committee had under its purview 116 cases, securing £515,039 for 15 members. We provided representation for members on employment issues such as unfair dismissal and discrimination cases. We also support members who have experienced workplace accidents that have led to physical or psychiatric injuries. In addition, we achieved some settlements for members in stress-related cases, demonstrating a psychiatric injury.
The Committee kept a vigilant eye on health and safety matters, including stress, violence, workplace conditions, environmental hazards, and accidents in the workplace and remain attuned to any proposed legislative changes and will make proactive responses to changes in health and safety regulations and approved codes of practice through the STUC and the TUC.
Convener of EIS Employment Relations Committee
Promoting Professionalism, Protecting Jobs & Pay
In April 2023, as a result of extensive collaboration between EIS-FELA, College Employers Scotland, Scottish Government and GTCS, a new route to registration provisional (conditional) registration became accessible to the profession.
The gradual rollout of the registration process has allowed time for more meaningful conversations about the multifaceted nature of college education, its crucial role in delivering positive outcomes for a wide range of learners, and the importance of registration in promoting high quality learning and teaching. GTCS registration recognises the Professionalism of Lecturers in the FE sector delivering the highest quality educational experiences for college students.
Industrial action is sadly a regular feature for the sector and despite years of being forced into taking action, EIS-FELA once again demonstrated their resolve to Fight for the Future of FE by rallying outside the Scottish Parliament on the first session of First Minister’s Questions on Thursday the 7th September.
The strong turnout was enhanced by our sister unions who represent support staff in the sector. A host of speakers, including students, spoke passionately in support of the protection of FE.
There was specific support for staff in City of Glasgow College facing large numbers of compulsory redundancies and Edinburgh College who were also in dispute over job cuts. The message was clear ‘We will never trade jobs for pay’.
Standing Up for Quality Education – in all forums
How to drill the work of Education Committee into a couple of paragraphs when the work ranges from SQA to EY, Education Scotland to GTCS, NIF to NeLO. Clearly all vital areas of EIS work but in the past year so much has been involved in education reform and inclusion.
The committee works hard throughout the year to ensure the voice of Scottish teachers is front and centre in a wide range of consultation responses with key ones in the last year informing on education reform and review of assessment in the senior phase.
In doing so, the committee sought wider views from members via focus groups of subject specialists and from elected members of Council whilst reflecting current EIS policies as developed from AGMs. These continue to be areas of ongoing work for Committee members as the pace of change has slowed and on occasion changed direction.
A significant area of our work relates to inclusive education. We take every opportunity to explore with anyone who will listen our members’ challenges in this area. We are consistently clear that this is an area where under-resourcing is having a detrimental effect on our members’ health and wellbeing and ability to support young people as effectively as they would want.
It is clear from the member surveys that this is a critical area for all, and the committee continues to challenge whenever possible and will support the work in the SU4QE campaign relating to the impact of underfunding of inclusion and ASN.
EIS Education Convener
We made them Pay Attention
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating: the key to the success of the Pay Attention campaign was the whole-hearted commitment of our members to take strike action. And when they were interviewed by local and national media on picket-lines and at rallies, members delivered with great articulacy and conviction the powerful arguments and evidence in favour of our action. This was in large part thanks to the clear communications put out by EIS Headquarters.
A watershed moment for us in those communications was the publication in late December of 2022 of the STUC paper ‘Options for increasing taxes in Scotland to fund investment in public services’ which revealed that the Scottish Government could have used its tax raising powers to raise 1.3 billion pounds by April of 2023 and 3.3 billion by 2026.
Around the same time the Auditor General confirmed that the Scottish Government had underspent on the previous year’s budget by an astonishing two billion pounds.
Our messaging on all of this evidence put paid to the Government’s disingenuous accusation that our pay claim was unaffordable and steeled our resolve to take rolling and targeted strike action, which forced the government to make the improved offer.
Concerted coordination at all levels of the EIS, together with the strongest, evidence-based arguments, defeated obstinate but ultimately superficial spin by politicians. Our campaign was a masterclass in Trade Union strength and solidarity.
EIS Vice President 2023-2024