Can you tell us about your history in teaching and the EIS?
After graduating from Heriot Watt University I undertook my PGCSE at Moray House in Edinburgh. That’s when I joined the EIS.
I taught Physics and Science in schools in Edinburgh and West Lothian and although I held a middle leadership post for 10 years and a development post after that in Business links with Education, I have been mostly classroom based during my long teaching career.
Teaching was my first choice of career. I’m passionate about my subject and was involved with The Institute of Physics in trying to redress the balance in Science and Engineering by encouraging girls to get involved in these areas.
In 2011 I became the school rep at my secondary school. Soon after that I got involved with West Lothian’s Executive where I took on the role of President, Health and Safety Officer and then LA secretary. A role that I still perform today.
Also, around this time I was elected to The National EIS Council and subsequently voted onto National committees for Employment Relations, Salaries and Executive as well as The SNCT Support Group and The SNCT Teacher’s Panel.
In West Lothian as LA Secretary, I joint chair LNCT meetings and was elected as the secondary/special rep for The Education Executive.
I was successfully elected on my second attempt to National Vice President last year and to National President this year.
In these roles I’m involved with every Committee and subcommittee of the EIS.
How has the EIS adapted to represent members during the challenges of the pandemic?
The EIS has continued to represent our members throughout the entire pandemic. As you would expect the needs, concerns and issues facing members have changed during the pandemic. Just like in our classrooms, we are making better use of online tools for meetings and engaging with members. Nothing can ever beat a face-to-face meeting, having members engaging in discussions and having that natural ‘bounce’, but we’ve certainly done the next best thing by switching to online. We have organized many Webinars for members, including on H&S training. When members come to us for help or advice we have continued to be there, as we always have and always will, and support and represent the needs of our members both at school, authority and national levels. When schools were closed to all but the most vulnerable children and young people, and the children of key workers, in March 2020, the EIS quickly worked with Scottish Government to agree on standards and expectations for the remote delivery of education. The General Secretary is a member of CERG (Covid Educational Recovery Group) where he brings issues our members have to the fore. Local associations have continued to work with local authorities on developing risk assessments, expectations and required mitigations for schools re-opening and remaining open and we continue to do so today.
We have surveyed our members to make sure we know the issues and then address them. Communication has been key and we have used all branches of the media and social media and continue to do so.
Covid case numbers are continuing to rise across the country – what is the EIS doing to keep members safe?
The EIS sits on CERG (Covid Educational Recovery Group) alongside civil servants, councils and government. We continually emphasise the need for schools to be open safely and work to ensure the health needs of all staff, children and young people are considered. We haven’t always agreed with the decisions ultimately made but we have worked tirelessly to stress the importance of mitigations in schools. Numbers are rising across the country and John Swinney stated that he believed schools re-opening after the summer has been a key driver of that rise. We were therefore dumbfounded when the guidance on self isolation for unvaccinated young people was changed so drastically and have continued to press for a bit of common sense to be used. We know transmission occurs in schools and we have already seen a number of schools required to close to some pupils due to staff shortages as a result of COVID-19. For our members, we continue to stress the importance of significant mitigations. Improvements in ventilation, CO2 monitoring, physical distancing where possible, face coverings and hopefully a change in self-isolation rules to something a bit more in line with that adopted south of the border. Many members are clinically vulnerable for one reason or another and we continue to support them individually in ensuring schools are adequately mitigating their increased risks.
The educational impact of the pandemic has been severe – what should be done to support education recovery?
Ultimately, the children and young people of Scotland have missed a significant amount of time of in-school learning. We, as professionals, know that this will impact on the attainment of the students in our classrooms. However, as professionals, we are best placed to overcome this impact and help all of our young people to flourish and succeed in their learning. As a union we are clear that the answer is not (as it has never been) about “catching-up” through tokenistic measures like holiday-schools and extended days. However, we are clear that COVID-19 is an opportunity to re-think our schools far more positively. Increasing the number of permanent teachers in our schools thereby reducing class sizes enabling teachers to spend more time with individual students, in a more custom-made learning environment, meeting their individual needs.
We need to employ all the teachers who are currently on supply lists and do away with the zero hours type of contracts that currently exist.
We need to increase the specialist Additional Support Needs and Special Education support teachers so we can address the needs of all our young people. If the country is serious about education recovery, we need to recruit and retain far more teachers. Reducing teacher class contact time sounds counter-productive to those who don’t know what education really involves. For those of us at the ‘chalk-face’, we know that increasing planning and preparation time and reducing class sizes are going to significantly improve educational outcomes for all young people.
We also need to use this opportunity to replace our current outdated exam system with a much fairer way of assessing and certifying our young people.
Concerns over covid aside, what are the other priorities for the EIS at the present time?
The campaigns we started pre-COVID-19 are still there. We are still ready with our 20/20 campaign to reduce class contact time to 20 hours per week and have a class size maximum of 20 students. This is a priority as reducing class sizes will make all the difference in the recovery phase and beyond to both teachers and learners. Our Value Education Value Teachers banner continues to be a driving force for our campaign.
We are aware that workload continues to be the number one concern for our members and will continue our campaign to reduce bureaucracy to allow teachers to use their professional skills for teaching and learning.
Teachers are concerned about lack of Additional Support Needs as the numbers of young people presenting with these needs are increasing incrementally just as the numbers of specialists are decreasing in the same pattern. We will continue to raise these issues to allow all young people to reach their potential but also give teachers the right to work in an environment which is designed to meet all the needs of every young person in front of them.
We are continuing to work on ensuring that our members’ pension arrangements are fair, particularly considering the age discrimination faced by many of our members between 2015 and 2022. We are currently in negotiations on our now-delayed pay award that was due in April of this year. Glasgow is hosting the COP26 Climate Summit. We know that schools are working hard on including this significant event in their planning. Our students are the next generation, and we know the importance of improving the planet is a significant priority for them and us.
What is the one thing you most want to achieve during your term as EIS President?
Obviously keeping all teachers and lecturers safe during this crisis is the number one priority. After that I believe we need to keep pushing hard for our 20/20 campaign. The Scottish Government is committed to reducing class contact time to 21 hours, which is a start, but we need to go further. Smaller class sizes will help immeasurably with targeted support for our young people. I believe these two issues quite rightly will remain our priority for campaigning.
Teachers train hard and work even harder when qualified and deserve to be rewarded with a permanent contract. That is a priority for us and much needed in the recovery and beyond.
For my colleagues in FELA and ULA I wish them a year of fairer treatment from their management and no more eroding of terms and conditions. We need more GTCS qualified teachers in all branches of education from nursery through to S6. I really want to see that. This is the key for me to the whole recovery and to address wider issues in education.
Teachers who are trained in additional support needs (ASN specialists), are on the decline whist young people are presenting with ever more learning and behavioural needs. As an LA secretary pre pandemic this caused the most communication from members.
So, although you asked for one thing, I have like a politician given a whole list as I want to see progress in all of them. If really pushed, I’d say more ASN support as that is an immediate need for every teacher in Scotland I believe.