Anger at rising workloads and budget cuts punctuated almost every speech at the EIS Scottish education union’s annual conference last week.
The damage being done by austerity to education was never far from the discussion and any attack on the Tories was well received.
But there was a feeling that things had worsened since last year’s conference due to a lack of effective action.
The Scottish government’s implementation of its new Curriculum for Excellence was attacked as a “bureaucratic nightmare” of “infernal assessments”. One delegate argued that the system is “ready to burst”.
Teachers are “stressed oot wur nut,” said one South Lanarkshire delegate, paraphrasing one of her pupil’s comments about the level of assessment they faced.
Some students face 64 different assessments in just a year and a half.
Glasgow teacher Kenny Mitchell read from a pupil’s essay which asked, “How are we supposed to deal with this kind of pressure?”
Motions were passed calling for urgent action “up to and including industrial action” over pay, cuts and workloads.
The latter was a call for a boycott of Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) related work at certain education levels.
Just before the conference the Scottish National Party (SNP) education minister Angela Constance attacked teachers over a decline in literacy and numeracy. She said they had to stop using poverty as “an excuse for failure”.
Constance was conveniently trying to divert attention from the SNP’s cuts.
EIS council member Hugh Donnelly argued, “Austerity has much more of an impact on attainment than a lack of testing. Teachers must be prepared to use their industrial strength to defend themselves and those they teach.”
General secretary Larry Flanagan pointed out that the SNP has cut 4,000 teachers and failed to deliver its manifesto promise of smaller class sizes.
It was also good to hear Flanagan assure delegates he had warned SQA “there will be industrial action” if it didn’t resolve the dispute around unit assessment in two months.
But such was the unease at feeling like it had all been heard before it wasn’t long until criticism broke through. Highlands delegate Alison MacDonald said, “Larry Flanagan told us last year ‘we cannot have another year like this’ but this year has been worse.”
She pointed to last year’s motions calling for industrial action if no progress was made. There has been no progress and no industrial action.
Charlotte Ahmed from Glasgow told of colleagues wanting to resign due to the pressure from cuts on the service. Moving a motion that included a call for strikes she argued, “It is urgently time to act as a trade union.”
Michael Dolan from West Dunbartonshire argued, “It’s time take the workload campaign further. We are still waiting. Enough sabre-rattling, let’s take action.”
Most of the debate focused on how the union would fight against the undermining of quality due to the underfunding of the Curriculum for Excellence.
There were also many calls to make it a major issue in the run-up to the 2016 Scottish parliament elections.
Other motions called “for a complete abolition of zero hours contracts in Scottish publicly funded education sectors”. Delegates speaking in support spoke both of the insecurity of the contracts and how university and college bosses used them to cut costs.
An important motion instructing the union to produce booklets on “the myths of immigration” for different age ranges passed overwhelmingly. And over 50 delegates attended an official fringe event on the Glasgow Girls.