Scottish education: Teachers' strike threat should focus politicians' minds on the need to improve their working conditions – Alison Dickie

Children have the right to a quality education. It’s laid out in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The EIS teaching union is considering strike action
The EIS teaching union is considering strike action

In this International Happiness at Work Week (yes, there is such a thing!), it makes sense that this is better delivered by happy, respected and well-supported teachers. Sadly, this requires some work.

They say life is a journey and sometimes a funny one. In May, after standing down as a councillor, I found myself in P1 land, knee-deep in play pedagogy and “Percy the Park Keeper”! I’d taught a lovely P5 class on Fridays since November, and chose to move to full-time supply teaching.

Being naturally suited to the upper and middle stages of primary, my amazing P1 teacher friends were guffawing in the background. “Who let her loose?” they cried! However, during that supply period and specifically a learning moment in The Pea Song, I was reminded that it’s frontline workers, such as teachers, who make the real difference to lives.

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Despite the political rhetoric from all national corners about education being a priority, action speaks louder than words. And this includes for teachers.

Roll on to today and, unfortunately, it’s been a different experience. Supply has felt like a session on those penny-pushers in the local arcade, never quite securing the money.

Planning issues around the numbers entering teaching and a lack of permanent contracts for both probationers and experienced teachers have resulted in a surplus of teachers ‘having’ to be on supply – most competing for that same supply ping on their phones.

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Teachers to take next step towards Scottish strike action after overwhelming bac...

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Teachers are graduates, they work hard and mainly love their profession. At the very least, they need sustainable long-term posts, which, in turn, can only benefit the quality of education. Instead, there are stories of disillusionment across social media and talk of looking to other countries for employment.

A recent Freedom of Information response from one local authority alone revealed that, whilst there had been an increase in probationers, permanent contracts had halved and 20 per cent of their teachers were on zero-hours contracts.

On Friday, the EIS announced the results of a consultative ballot. On a turnout of 78 per cent, 94 per cent voted to reject the five per cent pay offer and 91 per cent were willing to strike for a better one.

In our broken system, where the rich are getting richer at the expense of real-time wage cuts and increasing poverty for many, teachers and other frontline workers have had enough.

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When vice-convener of education on Edinburgh Council, I watched in awe as schools went beyond the call of duty during lockdown and recovery. Whether Covid or the increasing number of responsibilities laid at their door, they just get on with it for the sake of the children and young people.

On October 5, we will celebrate World Teachers’ Day. The theme for this year is “the transformation of education begins with teachers”.

Wouldn’t it be great if elected members at all levels tackled some of these issues to better support teachers and to maximise the impact that they have on our children and young people’s lives?

Alison Dickie is a teacher and was previously a councillor for Southside/Newington, vice-convener of education on Edinburgh Council, and a Scottish Parliament official