Why teach­ers’ pay dis­pute could close schools

The Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Hutcheon

A TRADE union leader has said the bit­ter row with the SNP Gov­ern­ment over a pay rise for teach­ers could lead to schools clos­ing early.

Larry Flana­gan, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Ed­u­ca­tional In­sti­tute of Scot­land (EIS), made the claim af­ter SNP Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary John Swin­ney and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties by­passed the unions and wrote to teach­ers di­rectly about their pay of­fer.

In a leaked email, Flana­gan said if coun­cils wanted teach­ers to read the joint let­ter then the school day may have to be cut short, as such a meet­ing would not be cov­ered by work­ing t i me agree­ments.

He also wrote that teach­ers could defy Swin­ney by or­gan­is­ing a “re­turn to sender” cam­paign or by protest­ing to him di­rectly.

Tory MSP Liz Smith crit­i­cised the prospect of schools clos­ing early: “Many par­ents will be very con­cerned about these rev­e­la­tions es­pe­cially those which im­ply teach­ers are be­ing told schools could close early in or­der to ad­dress the is­sues raised by the EIS.

“No-one doubts there are sig­nif­i­cant pres­sures in the teach­ing pro­fes­sion just now but this is not the way to go about re­solv­ing them.”

How­ever, Flana­gan told The Her­ald on Sun­day: “We’re not ad­vo­cat­ing early clo­sure, clearly, just high­light­ing the prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of heads be­ing told to call meet­ings.”

Pay for teach­ers is de­ter­mined by a tri­par­tite body which in­cludes the Gov­ern­ment, unions and the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, but no agree­ment has been reached for this year. The unions want ev­ery teacher, from pro­ba­tion­ers to heads, to re­ceive a 10 per cent rise, while Swin­ney and Cosla, which rep­re­sents coun­cils, have tabled a three per cent of­fer.

How­ever, the Cosla/Swin­ney pro­posal also in­cludes a re­jig of the main grade scale which would put more money into the pock­ets of teach­ers. De­fend­ers of the of­fer say it would give some teach­ers a rise of over 10 per cent.

The EIS has urged its mem­bers to re­ject the plan in an ad­vi­sory bal­lot on the pro­posal, which could be fol­lowed by a statu­tory strike vote.

Re­la­tions be­tween both sides were an­tag­o­nised af­ter Swin­ney and Tory coun­cil­lor Gail Macgregor, who is Cosla’s r es­ources spokesper­son, con­tacted teach­ers in a joint let­ter.

They wrote: “We firmly be­lieve that this is a fair of­fer which demon­strates that both lo­cal gov­ern­ment and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment value the teach­ing pro­fes­sion.

“We are dis­ap­pointed that it has been re­jected by the teacher unions.

“The teacher unions’ claim for 10 per cent in a sin­gle year can­not be achieved. It is sim­ply un­af­ford­able, and the unions have been told this since their claim was sub­mit­ted at the start of the year.”

They con­tin­ued: “In the case of teach­ers, we are look­ing to in­vest a to­tal of £105 mil­lion into the an­nual pay award and the re­struc­tur­ing of the main grade, the com­bined im­pact of which would mean that most teach­ers would see their pay in­crease by be­tween be­tween five per cent and 11 per cent over the course

Par­ents will be very con­cerned about these rev­e­la­tions es­pe­cially those which im­ply teach­ers are be­ing told schools could close early in or­der to ad­dress the is­sues raised by the EIS

of 2018/19, when in­cre­men­tal pro­gres­sion is fac­tored in.”

The unions were fu­ri­ous about the let­ter as they be­lieved it amounted to an in­ter­fer­ence in their in­ter­nal demo­cratic prac­tices.

In an email to EIS col­leagues on Fri­day, Flana­gan out­lined a suite of op­tions that teach­ers could adopt when re­spond­ing to the let­ter.

This in­cluded a “let­ter of protest” to a coun­cil leader if a lo­cal author­ity pushed ahead with send­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion, or emails to coun­cil­lors, lo­cal MSPs, Swin­ney and Macgregor.

He also sug­gested a “re­turn to sender” cam­paign as well as di­rect­ing teach­ers to the EIS web­site for the “ac­tual” facts.

How­ever, he also ad­vised mem­bers of what they could do in cir­cum­stances where teach­ers are asked to at­tend a school meet­ing at which the joint let­ter would be dis­trib­uted.

Flana­gan said union rep­re­sen­ta­tives should be ad­vised to protest to the head­teacher and con­tact their lo­cal EIS as­so­ci­a­tion.

In cases where heads are union mem­bers, the gen­eral sec­re­tary said they should protest to the coun­cil and “per­haps ask if an early clo­sure is en­vis­aged, as the school WTA [work­ing time agree­ment] doesn’t have a meet­ing sched­uled”.

A WTA is a col­lec­tive agree­ment reached at school level be­tween the trade unions and a head­teacher. Once it is signed off, an agree­ment is bind­ing on all staff.

He fin­ished his email by prais­ing the ef­forts of teach­ers who at­tended a re­cent rally and wrote: “If I knew how to in­sert an emoji there would be hands clap­ping here – just pic­ture it in your head.”

Asked by this news­pa­per whether he was sug­gest­ing to heads that they should men­tion early clo­sure to coun­cils on the grounds that such meet­ings would not be part of a WTA, Flana­gan said: “Yes if they are be­ing told to hold a meet­ing. Staff can’t be told to at­tend in their own time. Of course, a staff meet­ing may co­in­ci­den­tally have been planned.” Cosla de­clined to com­ment. A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “The Deputy First Min­is­ter met with EIS this week where con­struc­tive and cour­te­ous dis­cus­sions were had re­gard­ing the pay cam­paign.

“The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment in­tends to con­tinue this pos­i­tive dia­logue through­out the process. The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has worked with Cosla to put in place the best pay deal in the UK for 2018/19 and our joint let­ter ac­cu­rately ex­plains the com­po­nent parts so that teach­ers have a full un­der­stand­ing of the pro­pos­als on the ta­ble.”

Pho­to­graph: An­drew Mil­li­gan/PA

Thou­sands of teach­ers from across Scot­land staged a march in Glas­gow last Satur­day in sup­port of calls for a 10% rise in pay

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