A Tale of Two Weeks

Part 1: An Inspector Calls – or rather just texts.

Our school was inspected in the week beginning 28 September. We expected it and it had been preceded by a whole range of activities designed to tighten up our processes and practices, as well as the decor.

It struck me though; just how much of what we do is re-engineered to fit in with the apparent desires of the Inspectors? What happened to making things fit local needs and resources?

I wonder about the improvements that we made in the lead up to the inspection. Did they not serve to say to the pupils that they mattered less than our visitors?

I accept that the prospect of an inspection gets those things done that you had been planning but had not quite gotten around to doing. I wonder if it highlights that there are too many demands upon teachers and schools to get things done that are not directly beneficial to what we do?

My own experience of the inspection was minimal. I enjoyed only a brief conversation in the corridor with the team leader.  I had an observation of an S1 class and was in a focus group on our school’s excellent work on Employability and, that was it.

This was a huge contrast with the last inspection. Indeed, maybe it was my experience of the previous inspection that protected me from excessive advanced fear of this one…

It felt less an inspection and more a fleeting visit. The previous inspection seemed like an operation without anaesthetic and this was a visit to the GP. I respect fully of course that the exercise was significantly different for those in our senior management team!

I was due to take part in a further focus group of Principal Teachers but I had to pull out as we had gotten word that my wife’s maternal grandfather was gravely ill.

Part 2: Death and Life, Failure and Hope

The final week of term was a mix of great highs and great lows.

On the Thursday there was the Dearest Scotland book launch. I had submitted my letter and backed the Kickstarter and this was when all the efforts put in by so many people came to fruition. It also meant that like a TeachMeet I got to meet some folks from my Twitter feed!

Despite being on or in a variety of media, there seems something very special about having your words appear in a book.

I wrote my letter on a Mac. I then emailed it before it was placed on the website  and on my blog. At no point was it anything other than a set of 1s and 0s. But to hold a book and be able to point to a couple of pages that were written by me seemed to have a huge resonance.

Maybe this is why for years countless folks rushed out to get a copy of the local paper when their wee niece or grandson appeared in it. Is it better to have a clipping than to point at a webpage?

Who knows, maybe it is down to the possibility, decades from now of undertaking a re-run of the JR Hartley Yellow Pages ad?

The bounce I gained from that evening was huge but my fun was cut short just before 11 o’clock by a tweet from Frances Coppola:

“So sad. Greek mother and son find dead baby washed up on beach, say they will bury him as if he was a member of their own family.”

My Dearest Scotland letter focussed on meeting the needs of children today and future generations.

Yet, as I write the children of others are being washed up on shores within my continent.  Their parents are demonised for wanting to escape from war or poverty.

What is it that allows us to put up with this continuing tragedy, or permits our leaders to pander to headlines rather than humanity?

It’s us. We allow it. It’s our failure.

It’s the same failure that meant that not long after that tweet and the sadness it brought I was back up to normal.

Or, maybe it’s just me.

I suffer from moodiness that can mean moving all-too-quickly from peaks to troughs and back again.

Indeed the regained positivity itself was cut short on the last morning of term by the sound of the phone ringing.

The news was that after being at death’s door the week before, and despite a recovery, a great man was now gone. This gave rise to many emotions: sadness that a life was at an end but gladness that his suffering and pain were now over.

The self-centred part of me also wondered just how to explain death to a 3-year-old. How to explain no more Great Granda cuddles and laughs. Maybe in this regard those that have faith have it a bit easier; death is not death, it’s not an end, it is simply a step to another and eternal life.

Even that pondering was forgotten with the ‘distraction’ of the working day. It was also helped by a man from Germany turning up to work at Anfield.

Like most Liverpool fans I have been swept up by the positivity, the hope generated by the appointment of Jürgen Klopp as manager. Time will tell if this turns out to be what is hoped – the start of something big, or if it is just a false dawn after so many others.

In this regard, football is like life. We celebrate the wins, despair at the losses and somehow manage to move on to the next game. Every season we start with renewed hope.

In school, it’s no different. Regardless of the exam results we start off with classes with hope. We hope we’ll do better, that pupils will learn more and enjoy greater success. Yet, there are set backs on the way. The class or student that doesn’t quite gel with you, the deadlines you can’t meet through workload and *horror* family ‘getting in the way’ or the myriad incidents, lessons or whatever that make up life as a teacher. We try to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again the next lesson.

We face the challenges of our own personal and our working lives. In doing so, we experience and are part of the lives of so many others: the pupil who has suffered bereavement in the same class as the pupil who has a new baby sister; the colleague under pressure and the one who has at long last got that promotion.

What is it that allows us to work through these things? One thing for sure is that it is getting harder for many teachers to do so.

I wonder, are we serious about teacher agency and autonomy? Will it be the reflection that teachers themselves undertake as well as those with colleagues and pupils that determine next steps?  Or will we be continuing to wait for an external agency to come and visit? Worse still, will the government press ahead with the utter stupidity of a new form of standardised testing?

What is it that allows us to put up with these things, or permits our leaders to pander to headlines rather than pedagogy?

Will it be us? Will we allow it? If so, will it will be our failure, when we face so many challenges just to get by?

Maybe if the work of inspectors was re-engineered to fit the desires of schools and teachers and the pupils they served.

Maybe if workload and our contr(actual) obligations matched what we were paid to do.

Maybe if the focus was on meeting the needs of pupils rather than them or us jumping through hoops or ticking boxes our schools would be places where hope blossomed.

Ending at the Beginning.

In what will probably be the final [directly] SSTA-related speech/blog post, I’m ending with the first speech I made at an SSTA Congress. It was the last motion discussed in 2002 and I had the graveyard slot at the end of the day when everyone was wanting away and home.

My motion called for the ending of PFI, and here is as close to the text of my remarks as I can provide. As the Conservative government sells off more of the state’s assets and continues with austerity, it seems timely to recall it.

Congress, the case against PFI rests upon three simple grounds:

First, it was corrupt in its inception, second, it is uneconomic in its operation, and third it is damaging in its effects on our public services.

Put simply, It means jobs for the boys, profits for the city and privatisation for our schools – and all at the expense of our pupils.

The Private Finance Initiative is one of a whole host of schemes which under the guise of benefiting the public sector plunder it.

As reported by Paul Foot on channel 4:

PFI in the UK was the brainchild of a committee set up under the Tories in the early 1990s. A key member of which was the deputy managing director of General Electric – a man called Malcolm Bates.

Despite being vehemently against PFI before the 1997 election, after it Labour brought in a top businessman to advise them on PFI and came ‘round to his views, he was …Malcolm Bates.

A whole series of further PFI schemes were launched one of the largest of which was the Edinburgh Royal infirmary. It was built by a consortium including BICC, who’s Board was joined by… Malcolm Bates. Indeed, so happy with him were the government, that Malcolm soon became Sir Malcolm.

It’s just one example amongst many of people advising or promoting PFI to the government who after the deal’s been done, end up working for the beneficiaries.

PFI allows the few to get their snouts in the trough – it’s only the start of the scandalous waste of public money that is the Private Finance Initiative.

Even though the projects involving schools are relatively new on the scene, the lessons from these and from other parts of the public sector are clear for all to see.

The first waste of money is the fact that for a private consortium to borrow money it costs more than it would for the government to do so. Then come the set-up costs for the private sector including millions being spent on financial and legal advisors; prominent amongst which are our job-sizing friends at PriceWaterhouse Coopers.

PFI supporters insist that it presents a cheaper alternative to the public sector due to the risks involved in building and running facilities being transferred to the private sector.

However, the reality is of the manipulation of comparisons between public and private in order to create a false impression of value for money. In the case of the Glasgow schools contract, Unison has pointed out that the risk factor of building by the public sector was calculated at £70 million to cover up the fact that the council would be paying nearly £35 million more by going down the PFI route.

In the case of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – the full business case presented by the NHS trust did not even bother to compare project costs on a like for like basis. The effect of this according to independent analysts will see the project costing an extra £6 million per year over the next 15 years.

The recent controversy involving the PPP scheme to privately build and operate 3 prisons in Scotland show clearly the attempts of the Executive to pretend that there are substantial savings to be made in pressing ahead with PPP.

The clams of a £700m gap between public and private provision were rubished by independent analysts who cut through the biased assumptions of the PPP scheme.

In any case, the estimated private costs soon change after the deals have been done. In the Glasgow schools project the year one accommodation costs grew from an initial estimate of £24 million to over £36 million.

Fundamentally, risk is not transferred to the private sector as if a project fails the public sector will have to bail it out. Witness the additional funds needed to complete the new air traffic control system. Witness as well the additional funds needed to properly install computer systems for the immigration service, the passport agency and now, the Child Support Agency. Witness PFI and witness a total waste of money.

Incredibly though, when a council believes that a contract should be terminated due to the private sector  not keeping to its side of the bargain – it has to compensate the PFI contractors for contract termination – even if the PFI consortium are to blame!

When you add in the fact that private companies are out to maximise profit – the costs of PPP rise even further above public sector provision – and all for the sake of transferring public assets to the private sector.

PFI is backdoor privatisation which puts profits before prisoners, profits before patients and profits before pupils.

PFI supporters insist that PFI is the only deal in town  but Congress, under PFI rules if a council goes to the Executive saying that it wants PFI because it doesn’t have any alternative – they would be barred from obtaining PFI in the first place!

PFI supporters also say that its the only option, as the money would not otherwise be there to pay for these projects. But Congress, the current account surpluses of recent years are much greater than the value of the PFI deals which have been struck. The money is already there its just not getting used to provide better public services.

There simply is no economic case for PFI – but it’s the damage to public services that is the final part of the overwhelming case against PFI.

In order to make their costs less than the public sector, corners are cut.

Any cost savings can only be made from reducing the quality of the resource, the service provided or the conditions for the workers,

In our prisons it will mean less rehabilitation schemes – and an increase in crime. In our hospitals it means less beds and higher waiting lists. In our schools it means less facilities and more stress for teachers.

In hospital PFI projects an average cut of 33% in bed numbers has been made, in school projects facilities are cut back. In the Fife PFI scheme already, the consortium are putting old equipment in the new schools.

PFI brings the promise of the new but delivers the reality of the old.

The increase in the accommodation costs in Glasgow alone has resulted in the loss of seven swimming pools, many classrooms and many staff common rooms.

We are seeing more buildings with less facilities – and are paying for the privilege. Indeed this is further compounded by stories coming from those working in the new facilities that the basic fabric of the new buildings is not up to much in the first place.

The contracts last anything up to 30 years but the needs of communities in relation to school buildings has changed greatly over the last 30 years, who can say with confidence that they wont change radically over the next 30? But PFI forces us into inflexible deals over the long term.

Rather than investing in public services, PFI seeks to privatise them. Rather than investing in the future, PFI mortgages it. Rather than investing in value for money, PFI wastes money.

PFI puts public money which should be spent providing better education into the hands of profiteers. But it doesn’t have to be a choice between PFI and leaky windows between PFI and crumbling buildings, between PFI and poor resources.

There are alternatives to privatisation which are economic, viable and indeed desirable – they simply involve the government moving away from its dogmatic desire to line the pockets of the private sector at the expense of the public.

Putting money into the troughs for the snouts of the private profiteers cannot be, never has been and never will be in the interests of public services.

Congress, the pupils in our schools must come before the profits of big business.

The executive must put education before profit.

The chancellor must think again and get rid of these PFI schemes before they do any more damage that they’ve already done.

I move.

Calling Time…

I have written to SSTA General Secretary Seamus Searson tendering my resignation from active involvement within the Association.

The substantial text of my letter is as follows:

One of the things that a holiday period brings is a chance to reflect and a chance to regroup. It is also a time to ponder what lies ahead both in the immediate future and the time beyond that.

Following my own reflections I believe the conclusion is inescapable that I have become too thinly spread-out. This has been to the detriment of both my family and my own individual health.

This year, my work as Fife District Secretary was made more challenging and difficult because my facilities time and school time were split each day. Juggling this and my school responsibilities as I had predicted last year has proved impossible. I have carried out neither role with the level of efficacy that I had hoped would be the case.

Added to this the burden I have created for myself in seeking to move the Education Committee forward and the one I have inherited latterly as Acting President. These have further compounded the challenge and my feeling of being unable to over come them all.

My priority is to be the best husband, father, teacher, leader and manager that I can be. I have gained so many skills. experiences and opportunities in my SSTA involvement but these are increasingly getting in the way of the priorities that I have.

Søren Kierkegaard wrote that: “The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes.”

The time has come for me to set limits in what I do to achieve a greater degree of resourcefulness.

Consequently I am herby resigning as Vice-President of the SSTA, and am withdrawing my nomination to the post of President with immediate effect.

As a result I will also demit office as Convener of the Education Committee and my ex-officio membership of all SSTA Committees and Panels. Since my term of office as District Secretary comes to an end at Congress anyway, I am stepping down from these duties too with immediate effect.

You have already shown the necessary vision, energy and drive to take the Association forward. The SSTA under you as General Secretary will have its best days ahead of it I am sure.

My thanks go to all those in the SSTA that I have worked alongside over many years. Whilst I am sad that I will not be taking the journey ahead with you, I am confident that you will go from strength to strength.

With all good wishes

Robert

There will be no further comment on this specific matter at this time but I will of course, continue to tweet and blog.

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Dearest Scotland

Finally, I got around to writing my letter to the future Scotland.

You should do so too. Find out more at http://www.dearestscotland.com

Dearest Scotland,

Please look after my children. They will no doubt spend much more of their lives in your care than in mine.

Clearly, I won’t live forever but will you?

I had hoped that as my youngest daughter took her first steps that you too, would be taking your first steps as a newly re-established nation-state.

It seems that we all have much work to do to help you learn to walk and walk tall again.

That work, like the work of a parent, takes place every day. It is in the daily actions we take that shape the lives we lead and the people we become – and it is the sum of these that makes the Scotland we have and the Scotland you will become.

You face many challenges my friend.

The pessimism of my intellect suggests that the inequality, the pollutants we place in our environment (and those we place in our bodies and minds) will hold you back.

Just as your land is scarred from the motion of ancient ice, your people are scarred from the inaction of modern politicians.

Your people are all equal, all different, all human. Too often though, many of your children face inequality based upon those differences and treatment that is all too inhuman.

You are a country of riches, yet one of unfairness.

For too many Scots, hatred is directed at victims of poverty not at the culprits.

For too many Scots, tolerance is about putting up with others and not including them.

For too many Scots, the drive into despair not only continues, it accelerates.

Despite this, the optimism in my heart looks at you and knows that the best Scotland is yet to come, and moreover that we get to make it.

It is in our hands, through the daily actions we take that can and must shape that better Scotland.

Politics is made by people. It can be changed by people.

We can learn to hate inequality instead of hating its victims.

We can learn to hate racism instead of hating those with a different background.

We can learn to devote more attention to social justice than criminal justice.

We can learn that what we claim as our culture, our heritage, our language can never be diminished through helping others to enjoy theirs. Indeed, when we mix these things the sum is even greater than the parts.

We can learn that big community trumps big business each and every time.

My role as a parent is to help equip my children with the knowledge, skills and wisdom to help you become that better Scotland.

My dear Scotland, you owe me nothing and I owe you so much. You have been my home and have shaped my identity and my values.

So, not for me but for my children. Be what I hope they become: a better version of what has gone before.

Yours Aye,

Robert

Joining, leaving and then maybe rejoining a political party. Part 1

When I was wee, it was simple.

There was only one party that supported Scottish independence: the Scottish National Party.

My parents were both members of the SNP and I can recall my first bout of political activism.

It came during the 1983 election campaign. My older sister had been given a task by her teacher to draw an election poster and her group had to draw one for the Conservatives. Something didn’t sit right with 10-year-old me. The Conservatives were the party of Mrs Thatcher and she was not for Scotland. I knew this because that is what my Dad said.

I asked my Mum what party she supported and she told me the SNP, and I got to work creating a poster that said: “Vote for Scotland, Vote for the SNP”. It had a wee Saltire on it too and was a country mile better than my sister’s efforts in support of Mrs T.

This cemented an interest in current affairs that hasn’t left me since. Four years later I was handing out leaflets for the SNP in my local area in the 87 election campaign and then staying up late into the night watching the results. Several modern studies jotters laced with SNP mentions and slogans later and I was in the party itself. Now 16 I could join and did so after a public meeting featuring Jim Sillars in Castlemilk.

What followed was a 7 year period of handing out leaflets, canvassing and going to meetings and social events. The high points were the places visited and the people met. The low-points were the lost elections and the failed campaigns.

One event stayed with me the most and has had the deepest impact. With many others I helped form a human shield to prevent Sheriff Officers from entering the home of a woman to then hold a Poinding for Poll Tax debts.

The woman in question was a lone parent and she had barely anything in her house. Net curtains kept the weather out and no doubt Peter was robbed to pay Paul. Her poverty was laid bare. It was only out of necessity that she had opened her home to us but she was as generous and welcoming as it was possible to be in the circumstances.

This was the reality of our politics. Here was the target of the ‘Community Charge’ – the poorest in our community.

The whole situation summed-up why I was an activist: to work in solidarity with others to bring about a society that did not see such poverty nor such attacks on the poor.

That solidarity was with people in my own party, in other parties and in no party.

So what changed?

Me. I changed.

I have always known that political parties are umbrella groups of people with similar but not the same ideas on how the country should be run. I wanted a break as I felt that I could no longer campaign and ask people to vote for something I myself could not guarantee I’d back.

The drift had started long before this at a Special Conference in Govan in Spring 1991, when the party abandoned its Poll Tax non-payment campaign. Through a topical resolution at a conference the campaign ended but:

Conference reserves the right to launch a new non-payment campaign if the Government reneges on the promises made in the House of Commons that the new scheme will conform to the principles of fairness and ability to pay and will contain rebate arrangements to protect people on low incomes.

That ‘new scheme’ was of course the fair and based upon ability to pay Council Tax that still remains with us today.

Much of this was simply down to my own political development.

I had grown up politically inside a party and was to an extent partly bounded by defending its stance on any given issue – as well as being bounded by my own naivety.

Taking a break necessitated not renewing my membership. This decision was personal not political. I felt that retaining a party card meant that it would be too easy to fall back into activism and that was not for me at that time. I didn’t leave with any hurrah, nor any intention of joining another party.

That break has continued now for almost 18 years.

In that time, many of the people I campaigned with, laughed with and got drunk with have stayed and are now at the top or near the top of our government.

My former colleagues now increasingly feature in my lessons as their pictures and names are appearing in the web pages, exam questions and news articles that my pupils access.

Am I jealous of their success? No, not one bit. I do admit to taking some pride though in what they have achieved and will no doubt go on to achieve.

I have thought about rejoining them at different times but have not done so.

Yet.

The first question is over the extent to which one compromises one’s own principles and world view to sit under the umbrella again – and to ask others to join us.

Also, to what extent does taking a party card actually help achieve those things that we want in society? People’s views on this seem to have changed following the referendum, and the immediate response would be that it takes more than simply holding a membership card.

Unlike when I was wee, the SNP is no longer the sole pro-Independence party, nor does it hold any monopoly on a commitment to social justice.

Finally, does ‘owning-up’ to a party political badge mean that our words and deeds become tainted? [Well, they would say that because they are a member of Party X]

That’s for Part 2. Whenever that comes.

Prophets of Rage

“You’re quite hostile.”

“Hey man, I gotta right to be hostile, ‘cos my people are being persecuted.”

Public Enemy: ‘Prophets of Rage’.

“Just how does spouting hate speech about the opposition highlight the new [and better] politics you say you wish to establish?”

From a tweet of mine the other day:

Perhaps too often I am sarcastic – and too sarcastic at that.

I appreciate that sarcasm per se and my own sarcasm (usually an attempt at humour) is not always a nice thing.

Similarly, satire when done well, can be brilliant at exposing the pompous. It can reduce those we fear to figures of fun. It can go awry too.

During the referendum campaign we had much discussion of the CyberNat – the keyboard crusaders who were online to counter the media bias and stick it to the ‘No’ side. In my view, much of it was exaggerated but I accept that there were some examples of shocking online abuse to be found. [NB. The worst I got called was a ‘porridge gobbler’ from someone who suggested that Scotland was owned by the UK.]

We are now not only in the post-indyref period but also are in the period pre-indyref2.

How then, is that new Scotland, that presumably folks are still seeking, going to be won?

Will rage at the continuing injustice and inequality around us help?

To me, it depends on the target of this rage and the tactics used.

I recently saw a post about Kezia Dugdale that highlighted the first three letters in her surname.

Is this the new Scotland? Is this satire? Is this the level of debate in our society?

Are the people we wish to persuade in a future referendum simply to be blasted as ‘Red Tories’ because they still value their membership of the Labour party?

Surely, the best way is to focus any rage we have on developing a consensus for a better Scotland? Let our anger motivate us to find the solutions to the complex problems we face rather than resorting to sniping at others.

The challenge for the political parties that have ballooned in size since September is to channel the energy from their new recruits into positive optimism.

I do wonder though that when the digital activists move from campaigning on a cause to campaigning for an individual political party will we see that positivity?

Significant Others

Once again I have the honour of having a column printed in TESS. You can see the published version here: https://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6450353

Recently I visited the National Museum of Scotland with my now 3 year old daughter and her 3 month old sister in tow. As we whizzed around I tried to take in the marvels that have helped shape the nation we are and our place in the world.

I wondered what things taking place over the course of my young daughter’s lives will find their way into such museums. Will our soon-to-be obsolete phones, and still uninvented technologies, be joined by some of our attitudes?

Will we see racism, Islamophobia, homophobia or ‘poverty porn’ confined to the past?

Despite commitment, action and progress, we have a long way to go.

In September, 9 local authorities revealed nearly 1,000 racist incidents involving primary school pupils had been recorded since 2011.

The real figure is likely to be much higher.

One of the councils reporting was my own, Fife, which post-Macpherson launched the ‘A Mixed Fife, A Richer Life’ campaign. This was to highlight and challenge racist community attitudes and was a campaign I was proud to support.

Yet, at the same time, I was teaching pupils in an S1 modern studies course that a same-sex partnership was just as valid a family relationship as a heterosexual one. This of course breached the offensive Section 28/2A.

Anti-racist legislation is clear. Further, our parliament has passed laws allowing my daughters to chose whom they wish to marry – regardless of sexuality. Yet, are our schools safe places for LGBT youth? Would a pupil or even a teacher coming out face respect or ridicule or worse?

Would our institutional response equate to the stance we take against racism?

Our curriculum aims to develop in pupils: compassion, wisdom, justice and integrity. Our teachers are committed to the value of social justice through the GTCS standards.

However, the recent success of certain political parties in England challenges the values that we wish our young people to demonstrate and our teachers to promote.

Moreover, recent Ipsos MORI research showed that the British people make wrong assumptions about key public policy statistics.

These include a vast overestimation of the proportion of the British population which is immigrant (24% compared with an actual 13%) or Muslim (21% as opposed to the real figure of 5%). The overestimation of the extent of unemployment was also marked (estimated as 24% when in fact it is only 7%).

They are much more likely to see these things as ‘problems’.

I have no doubt that such misconceptions are fed by tabloid frenzy and political pandering.

These misconceptions are likely to also be prevalent amongst young people too.

However, is a pupil that suggests there is ‘too much’ immigration guilty of racism and a victim of bias? How many pupils stigmatise those claiming benefits – yet live in deprived communities? How many pupils have no faith yet show ‘concern’ over the apparent size of different faith groups and its implications?

Many of the young people we now teach have grown up in a society where media and pundits have demonised immigrants, asylum seekers, followers of Islam and the poor.

To challenge this, in my view, we must go further than point to our values.

Our young people can only be helped to identify and challenge the inaccuracies in the media and the inequalities in their communities if they have the tools to do so.

That can only come through having a much greater part of the curriculum devoted to achieving this – with appropriately qualified and motivated staff to teach it.

As LGBT Youth Scotland recently campaigned https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/shh, it also requires us collectively to no longer be silent on such matters.

Stand Up For Yourselves

The following is the original draft of an opinion piece that was published in TESS

For background it was written on the Sunday before the Independence Referendum – and before so many people decided that a route to maintain their activism was in fact to join a political party.

I am grateful for the honour of being published.

“it’s times like these you learn to live again
it’s times like these you give and give again.”
 
Foo Fighters “Times Like These”
 
 
The recent referendum campaign motivated many people perhaps for the first time, to think about political action and to take part.
 
From posting their thoughts online to posting leaflets through doors, many teachers developed a taste for participation. They have discussed the sort of economy and society they want to see and have translated that into action.
 
Participation has given many teachers huge and positive energy.
 
As a trade union activist I see an irony and an opportunity.
 
The irony is that many of those teachers engaged in shaping the future of Scotland are not involved in defending their own working conditions nor in shaping the future of Scottish education.
 
The referendum saw 97% of Scots registered to vote and turnout [expected to be] well-over 80%. This was down to the idea that this time votes would have an impact; and that the referendum mattered.
 
TESS recently noted that purdah prevented schools from holding referendum-related events for their pupils. In so doing it did a potential disservice both to these young people and to democracy. Schools are seen as essential to developing active citizenship in our pupils. Yet, are our schools and the way that they are run offering teachers the opportunity to develop as active citizens?
 
We need to support and challenge school managers to fulfil their responsibility to operate in a collegiate manner.
 
We will never develop responsible citizenship in pupils let alone the other three capacities, if we do not develop them in teachers too.
 
Teachers themselves however need to challenge where there is a lack of workplace democracy. They must also challenge when professional learning is denied or when bureaucracy gets in the way of learning and teaching. 
 
The opportunity I see is that if teachers become active in their trade union they can do these things and ensure that schools put learning and teaching at the centre of what they do. Teacher action is needed to push for better conditions at a local, national and global level too.
 
The point of a trade union is to take collective action to better the working conditions of their members. Teacher working conditions are pupil learning conditions. Yet neither can improve through teacher apathy. Each trade union can only be as strong as its members allow it to be through their interest and involvement.
 
Those of us active in trade unions have to create opportunities for members to participate. We must also develop member confidence that their involvement will have an impact and that it will matter.
 
This can only come through trade unions themselves educating and activating their members.
 
Too often we have had a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude. It’s been enough to organise an event and assume (or rather hope) that people would come along.
 
It’s no longer enough.
 
We need to find new ways to engage with members and for them to engage with us. This includes the online participation that so many are now involved in. As I argued in TESS before: “If people are spending increasing amounts of their time online, it is into this space that organisations have to move. Failing to do so may mean failing to maintain relevance.”
 
The challenge for us is to strengthen ourselves to defend our conditions of service and to achieve the best for our pupils.
 
To do this trade unions need to create the conditions for members to become active and to ‘give and give again’.

 

The Risk of Independence is Worth It.

We get up every morning and take risks.

We drive in cars that kill thousands each day but risk it to get to work

We leave our children in the care of others and risk what might happen if there is an accident.

We lock our doors and hope that nobody breaks in – but still we leave the house to go out.

We risk using electrical devices that could shock us – or even kill us.

We do all this and more because the ‘risk’ is that to fail to do so is to limit ourselves and our lives.

Starting a new nation would be a huge risk but we are not starting from scratch. We are not starting a new nation, we are seeking to build a better version of the one we have.

Yes there is uncertainty but where is the certainty with a no vote?

Where is the guarantee of stopping/reversing the funding cuts that hollow-out services?

Where is the certainty of removing nuclear weapons and not fighting illegal wars?

Where is the certainty that we will see social justice?

If we want certainty – if we want a better future we either exercise power over ourselves and create that which we would desire or simply leave it to the uncertainty of the judgement of others.

I’ll vote yes because I believe that we can make a better attempt, with more chance of success at social and economic justice with independence.

Party politics is irrelevant; it’s about power who has it and what they do with it.

What Twitter Means to Me.

Was asked recently what Twitter meant for me. Here is what I said:
For me, Twitter is many things. It is a Personal Learning Network that has put me in touch with educators from around the world. I have learned from some of the soundest minds in learning ranging from classroom teachers to academics – and more.
Through Twitter I am linked with teachers, journalists, politicians, trade unionists, writers, pundits and professors, old friends and the President of the United States of America.
Many of the teachers I follow blog about their teaching and the learning in their classes. Others have roles in leadership or management. Twitter is the conduit to them through the links shared.
Have a question about a teaching strategy, a resource or an article? A simple request in a tweet can in moments spread around the world with many people offering solutions, links and support.
It offers a connection with ideas and with people. Though that connection has at times been camaraderie of pain, more often it has been one of hope. Twitter shares success and things that inspire. Teachers also share: the things that have gone wrong; the things that worry them or the things that stand in the way of doing their best for their pupils.
Teachers can take a more active role in pursuing support to improve what they do and the impact that it has on their pupils. Twitter facilitates this via the links made, shared and sent and through the #Teachmeets and #pedagoo events that have sprung out from them. These bring the virtual links into the real world and make them even stronger.
If anything, the problem that people face is one of curating the best and most relevant links, blogs and articles. Twitter links to an almost limitless online library.
For organisations, Twitter is to me something that they must embrace. If people are spending increasing amounts of their time online, it is into this space that organisations have to move. Failing to do so may mean failing to maintain relevance.
The energy shown by many recent popular movements are inspiring. Long-standing organisations can use twitter to similarly inform, involve and inspire their own members.
Still, we have to respect that in many democratic organisations participation requires turning up to meetings and events. New forms of organising will take time to blend with and enhance the old.
We must remain vigilant to some of the destructive and harmful behaviours to which twitter has led. Cyberbullying is real. People are clearer on how to capture and report hostile or abusive messages but employers need to protect their staff from abuse.
Yes an individual teacher may contravene their employers’ code of conduct with a shared picture or comment, but managers cannot and must not over-react. In my own local authority, we are developing support for the victims of online abuse and those to whom it is reported. We need to get the balance right.
I’m a Twitter optimist. The opportunities for help, support and learning that it gives far outweigh any disadvantages.