This year’s EIS (Scotland’s teaching union) annual general meeting in Perth last week took place against a backdrop of massive budget cuts combined with a major overhaul of the curriculum from nursery to secondary.
There was general agreement that cuts were linked to the recession and the crisis caused by the greed of bosses like Sir Fred Goodwin. Speaker after speaker referred to his outrageous pension and the scandalous MPs expenses.
The anger at Labour and their business friends is understandable but the Scottish National Party (SNP) government share responsibility. The SNP is demanding “efficiency savings” in public services.
There are already 1,000 fewer teachers in Scotland than when the SNP took office and another 500-700 jobs will be lost next year. The millions already slashed from education budgets have led to councils like Glasgow closing schools.
A real determination exists to make sure that education is not sacrificed to pay for their crisis. A motion for a strike ballot and national demonstration was passed unopposed as was a resolution to work jointly with other public sector unions.
Unfortunately the strongest motions calling for a moratorium on development of the new “Curriculum for Excellence” were only supported by about a third of the conference.
There was widespread concern about workload. Another consequence of the cuts has been the failure to reduce class sizes that was promised by every political party except the Tories at the last election.
Class sizes are in fact going up and previous reductions are being pushed back in some areas.
Conference agreed to campaign for class sizes of 20 or fewer in every Scottish school. In an important development conference also voted for the campaign to include national industrial action.
These are important decisions. Socialists and activists in the EIS will need to work hard in their schools, local associations and at EIS council which meets between conferences to ensure that they lead to real and effective action.
The EIS conference also passed a motion in support of Palestine, for a boycott of Israeli goods and agreed to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition.
Finally in an unusual step the union’s president, David Drever, broke with protocol to make a public statement of support for Penny Gower. Penny is fighting to win her job back after being sacked by Carnegie College for trying to carry out her duties as an EIS health and safety rep.