Education was at the forefront in the recent Scottish election campaign, with all parties making supporting education recovery a key focus of their manifesto commitments. Here, the SEJ looks at the key issues that the newly elected Scottish Parliament must address.

Although we still have some way to go in suppressing the coronavirus, it is critically important that we start to plan for post pandemic recovery and lay down the structures for how we build back better than before.

The EIS is very clear that the role of education must be central to the nation’s recovery and, ahead of the recent Holyrood elections, the EIS pushed all political parties for commitments on enhanced support for Scottish education to support that recovery.

The importance of education has been brought into sharp relief during the Coronavirus pandemic, with politicians at local and national levels frequently highlighting the vital importance of education to our young people, to our economy, and to the future of our country as a whole.

Despite its importance, education has been subjected to many challenges in recent years. Even prior to the extreme stresses brought by Coronavirus, investment in schools, in staff, and in support for young people has been insufficient too often.

The EIS Manifesto for Education made the case for increased investment to support an education-led recovery – including substantial investment in the recruitment of additional teachers to support that recovery.

During the last school session extra funding was announced to support local authorities in recruiting additional teachers to support education through the pandemic, but the reality is that all of these posts have been temporary appointments and now thousands of teachers are unsure as to whether they will even have a job after the summer.

At the present time more than 1 in 10 teachers are on temporary contracts or ‘zero hours’ supply staff lists. That is quite scandalous and is one of the reasons why year-on-year we lose qualified teachers who struggle to secure permanent posts in their chosen career. Precarious employment in any field of work is unacceptable – for it to exist on the scale it does within a declared policy priority of Government and in a public sector context is a disgrace.

The recent EIS national survey indicated that some teachers on supply lists have had little or no work during the pandemic. This has forced many to take on alternative employment to make ends meet, with a significant number leaving the profession altogether and move into different careers. In some cases, it has been Local Authority practices which have created the problem – Councils, as the employers, have a key role to play in combatting the short termism of temporary employment.

Quite simply, the challenge around education recovery is immense and if we are to meet the needs of young people, Scotland needs more teachers – and they must be offered secure jobs, with an end to the zero hours culture on the employment of supply teachers. Key to this is ensuring that funding streams themselves are not temporary. Employing more teachers would help to reduce class sizes, ensuring that students receive tailored support that meets their needs; it would enable an increase in the specialist provision required for young people with Additional Support Needs; it would support our pupils and students who have suffered a traumatic experience during the pandemic, with the impact often being felt most acutely by young people already facing disadvantage caused by poverty.

Throughout the pandemic, Scotland’s political parties have repeatedly emphasised the importance of education, and educators, to the national recovery. The EIS absolutely agrees with this sentiment, but we are also extremely clear that it will take more than just fine words from politicians to deliver this ambition.

The EIS engaged with all of Scotland’s main political parties throughout the election period. We organised a series of Hustings events on school education, on equity and equality, and on Further and Higher education. In these events, EIS members pressed politicians to make firm commitments to better support education in the next parliament.

We heard encouraging statements from each party, and repeated support for the vital role of Scottish education and recognition of the important work carried out by teachers and lecturers. There appears to be a near cross-party consensus of the need to increase the number of teachers employed in our schools and, also, agreement on the need to protect the vital role of lecturers in our Further Education colleges from the threat of cost-cutting managerialism.

Now that the election is past and the Scottish Government has been elected, The EIS, and Scotland’s young people, parents and carers, will fully expect the commitments made on recruiting more teachers and supporting education recovery to be delivered. Given the agreement, across the political spectrum, of the importance of employing more teachers, we will expect the Scottish Parliament to work on a collaborative basis to deliver this commitment.

It will be essential, however, to ensure that local authorities deliver on the promises made to employ more teachers. While the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government set national policy on education, it is local authorities who employ teachers. In the past, we have seen frustrating examples of national commitments on teacher recruitment not being delivered in some parts of the country. Given the importance of employing more teachers to support the national recovery from Covid, Scotland’s local authorities, and their representative body COSLA, must work with the Scottish Government to deliver these commitments on employing more teachers and supporting an education-led recovery. The EIS, and Scotland’s voters, will be watching closely and will expect all commitments to be delivered in full.

Party Promises

Scottish Conservatives

“The Scottish Conservatives would review the quality of teacher training and introduce a new workforce strategy worth £550 million to recruit 3,000 more teachers over the course of the next Parliament. This would support people with experience in sectors such as STEM to start a new career in teaching and create a Rural Teacher Fund to attract teachers to work in rural areas.”

Scottish Greens

“Recruit more teachers. We will recruit 5,500 additional permanent teachers, an increase of 10%.”

Scottish Labour

“Every probationary teacher should be given a guaranteed completion opportunity to ensure that they can gain registration and help to refresh our workforce. Trainee teachers who have been unable to complete training should be given the right to complete, at no cost to themselves. Additionally, Scottish Labour will end temporary contracts and zero hour supply teacher arrangements. To help make this possible, we will restore teacher numbers, increasing them by 3,000 over the course of the parliament with a proportionate increase in support staff.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats

“A teacher job guarantee. No teacher should be unemployed or feel underemployed when the new school term begins in August. We need the talents of everyone in the teaching profession, so children get the most out of their time back in school. Every qualified teacher should be guaranteed a job. They will help with smaller class sizes, more one-on-one help, and additional support needs in the classroom.”

“We will extend the Pupil Equity Fund which provides money directly to schools for extra teachers, more pupil support assistants, one-to-one tuition and hobbies for children from less well-off backgrounds. By making the fund a permanent feature we will give confidence to schools to recruit additional staff and reduce short-term contracts.”

“We will boost the teaching workforce with simpler processes to allow qualified teachers from outside Scotland to join the Scottish teaching profession while maintaining professional standards.”

Scottish National Party

“Recruit at least 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants – over and above the 1400 teachers recruited during the pandemic – allowing teachers more time out of the classroom to prepare lessons and improve their skills.”