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?

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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.

Solidarity With Those Fighting the Privatisation of Basic Education

Remarks in Support of Motion M
SSTA Congress May 2014

Congress notes with alarm the increasing trend towards the privatisation of the provision of basic education in some countries
 Congress pledges the solidarity and support of the SSTA to Education International and those others resisting such changes.


Fife District

As I am sure Congress will be aware. 3 weeks ago over in the Nigeria, Boko Haram abducted over 200 school girls.
But you may not know that since 2009 the Nigeria Union of Teachers has seen 171 of its members killed by the same group.
You may also not know that in central Nigeria, primary teachers are currently on an indefinite strike.
Their demand: a promised but undelivered minimum wage of only $112 – per month.
They have been on strike since last October.
From Wednesday to yesterday, Nigeria’s schools and government offices were closed.
Closed to enable a high level of protection but not for school girls or their teachers.
But for visiting foreign dignitaries attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Abuja, the capital city.
The Forum featured sessions on how education systems in Africa can ‘benefit’ from the role of the Private Sector.
Session include ‘How …innovative public-private co-operation models [are] accelerating investment in crucial services.’
Featured speakers include think tanks dedicated to the privatisation of public education systems in the US and agencies that only this week agreed a deal that will see the privatisation of Nigeria’s power sector.
The session was facilitated by one Gordon Brown – he of Public Private Partnership fame.
This commoditisation of public assets is not unique to Nigeria, nor indeed the power sector.
In 2013 Education International reported on trends in freedom of association and in collective bargaining in the education sector since 2008.
In those countries affected by the current crisis, there has been a marked reduction in education budgets with crisis used to justify pro-market reforms.
There has also been a marked increase in the casualisation of the teacher workforce and a reduction in collective bargaining.
In  Senegal the government is recruiting huge numbers of volunteer and contract teachers. Undermining both the quality of education provided and the representativity of trade unions.
In Poland it has become easier for local authorities to save money by handing over the running of small schools to private providers.
Similar moves have been seen in Hungary.
In Spain, huge budget pressures have seen: Cuts in staffing levels, increases in class sizes and further privatisation.
In the USA there has been a drive for some time in many states to reduce or remove collective bargaining from teachers.
In some states it is now illegal for a trade union fee to be deducted from pay checks. In others, collective bargaining is limited to negotiating a wage rise up to the rate of inflation.
There has been a drive towards linking teachers’ pay to standardised test scores and the ending of teacher tenure, and the creation of privately run but publicly funded Charter schools’.
The prospects seem bleak and could get far worse.
Currently, the EU and the USA are negotiating over what is called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. 
It’s a free trade agreement negotiated behind closed doors with no democratic accountability.
It’s intended to make foreign investment less ‘risky’ for multinational corporations.
This would be done through ending tariffs on trade, opening up markets and much else.
We should be concerned over much of this but especially at the introduction of investor-protection.
As this would allow private companies to sue governments they perceive as threatening their investment.
We already have a taste of this.
The German government decided to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster.
Swedish Energy Group Vattenfall is suing them for €3.7 billion due to potential lost profits!
A Canadian firm is threatening to sue Romania for $4billion in damages. 
Why?
Because Romania’s parliament voted against allowing them to create an open-cast gold and silver mine in the country.
Such attacks are not solely reserved for far-off continents and countries.
In England free schools are publicly funded but:
do not have to employ qualified teachers;
do not have to follow the National Curriculum;
can set their own pay and conditions for teachers.
Already some companies are seeking permission to set-up and run such schools on a for-profit basis.
There is also an increasing involvement of the private sector throughout Higher education. 
This potentially opens the door to multinational involvement in education.
If so, are we to see governments sued for preventing profiteering?
The question for us is are we immune?
Education is devolved and may give some protection.
For now but waiting is not good enough.
But I suggest to you that we have a role to play to promote a different vision of public education.
A vision that puts pupils before profits.
A vision that rejects public education as a for-profit venture subject to the whims of corporations.
A vision of properly resourced schools, with qualified teachers. Teachers that benefit from collective bargaining.
I ask that we spread that vision and extend our solidarity to those around the world who share it.

I started off by talking about the girls kidnapped and the teachers killed in Nigeria.
Neither they nor the education they seek should be a commodity to be bought and sold.
Please support the motion.

End Child Poverty

Remarks in Moving Motion L

SSTA Congress May 2014


In welcoming the publication by the Scottish Government of the 2014 revision of the Child Poverty Strategy with its emphasis on reducing the attainment gap affecting pupils from the poorest backgrounds, Congress notes that simply amending institutional practice or seeking change without accounting for the impact on those delivering public services of recent and continuing cutbacks will fail to see the goals of the Strategy achieved.
Congress therefore calls upon both the Scottish and UK Governments to make ending child poverty a reality together with resourcing public services with the necessary tools to end the attainment gap for the poorest pupils.

Fife District


President, Congress.
We live in a country that is rich in natural resources, rich in its history and rich in its internationalism.
We claim for ourselves a character based upon education, tolerance and looking after the Common Weal.
But there is a stain on that character.
That stain is the fact that so many of Scotland’s children, too many of Scotland’s children – 1 in 5 – grow up in poverty.
In some streets and schemes in Scotland, it’s one hundred percent of the families that are living below the breadline.
This poverty is a crucial factor in leading to a continuing attainment gap between the richest and the poorest in our society.
Just this week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published research that quantified this gap.
By aged 3 there’s already a clear gap in both vocabulary and problem solving. Between the richest and the poorest.
By aged 5 this is a 13-month gap in vocabulary development and a 10-month gap in problem solving.
This gap continues throughout school.
Researchers point to the data from surveys of both literacy and numeracy, showing that in literacy: 
‘Overall, there was a 17, 14 and 16 percentage point difference between children from the least and most deprived backgrounds at P4, P7 and S2 .
‘In numeracy the gap widens throughout primary schooling to leave a pupil from the most deprived backgrounds to be only half as likely to be performing well or very well than those from least deprived backgrounds.
Finally, whilst attainment at the end of S4 has risen overall… a significant and persistent gap remains. 
What therefore is does the government propose to do about it?
Earlier this year, the Scottish government updated its Child Poverty Strategy. 
In it there are number of key steps in the period ahead:
Firstly to reduce income poverty and material deprivation.
Secondly, to break inter-generational cycles of poverty, inequality and deprivation.
Third, to address area-based factors which currently exacerbate the effects of individual poverty.
Congress, I do not believe that any of these things are in any way disagreeable.
But are they achievable? 
At the heart of the strategy is of course, education.
So what are the big agendas for education in making progress in this area?
As we might expect the list is as follows:
CFE, reforms to Initial Teacher Education, the new Scottish College for Educational Leadership, the Insight benchmarking tool, GIRFEC…and a plethora of schemes, initiatives, committees and reports.
The authors of the Joseph Rowntree report have called for some immediate action:
First, Government should provide guidance for schools on how to use the policies and freedoms they have to make a difference to poorer children.
Second to start talking to schools about the data they need, and how they must use it.
Third, Give teachers and head teachers robust knowledge about what has worked, or what is likely to work to reduce the attainment gap.
These are all important suggestions.
But if the result is more assessment and testing to generate more data it may not work.
Even if there is to be better data or advice – where will the time come from to analyse and incorporate this?
As budgets are cut, and pressure increases – when will we be able to link up with partners to plan better outcomes for pupils?
If there are learning and teaching approaches better at reducing the attainment gap – where is the time to develop and adopt them?
Congress
Like most people here today, I have a job,
A good standard of living,
And no problems meeting many of my wants.
But the parents of many of our pupils, have no job,
A very low standard of living,
And real problems in meeting their needs.
There is hardly a person in this room,
nor any teacher in Scotland,
who wouldn’t want to do all that they can to reduce the attainment gap.
But, if it is just another target to be set amongst dozens,
if it’s just yet another priority in an endless list,
it will never happen.
We cannot reduce the attainment gap for pupils by increasing the development gap for teachers.
But there are other challenges we face.
As both you, President and Aamar Anwar said yesterday, we have massive inequality in wealth.
The richest 20% of the population have 60% of the wealth – 100 times more than the bottom 20%.
The richest 1% have as much wealth as 60% of the population.
This is simply immoral – and requires government to act and act now.
And if the government wishes to see the attainment gap close then it must resource and equip us to play our part in doing so.
The Scottish Government in their strategy and in their Independence White Paper say that they are limited by what devolution only allows them to do.
But it doesn’t matter if we have a devolved Scotland or an independent Scotland what we need is a more equal Scotland.
It’s not Westminster that has failed to support teachers in cfe or new national qualifications.
And yes it is Westminster that has given us austerity but it’s Holyrood that’s given us a council tax freeze – and a consequent funded gap for local councils.
And in relation to Child poverty.
It doesn’t matter who is the monkey and who is the organ grinder, we need action from all levels of government that puts ending child poverty at the centre – at the centre of what is does.
And it must put public services and their staff into a position to best achieve that goal.
Only then can we ensure teachers and schools support all children, all children to grow up in dignity and with the chance to fulfil their potential.
Please support the motion.