Positively Scottish 

I was asked by the folks at Positively Scottish to make a contribution to their new ‘In Real Life’ pages.

As with my TESS columns I present here the submitted version prior to editing. You can read the published article as well as many other inspirational things here

I am so honoured to have been asked to note down some thoughts on wellbeing, in particular my own depression.

I write this as a teacher but recognise that my experiences, symptoms and challenges are faced not only by other public sector workers but also by people more generally.

I have asked pupils to avoid belittling mental illness, or those suffering from it. I mention that 1 in 3 Scots adults will at some point suffer from a mental illness and that this would most likely be depression. In the back of my mind was the fact that I was probably one of them and some of the pupils in front of me were also likely to become the same.

I believe that teaching is a caring profession that is in need of care – as are so many others. The stigma that is still attached to mental health issues forms a barrier to people admitting such illnesses to themselves. This in turn makes institutions and workplaces less able to support people when they suffer.

This summer of violent attacks will not help matters. It seems that whenever there is a white suspect, the immediate suggestion is that they will have some sort of mental illness. How can we expect people to admit to even mild depression if they fear that they are being lumped into the same category as mass murderers?

What makes this situation worse is work insecurity and associated attendance management policies. They come laced with words of support but with a central desire to reduce absence and increase compliance.

I find myself challenging this status quo in 2 ways. First, I blogged as part of the #teacher5aday wellbeing series at the start of the year little grasping that as I did so, my own black dog was loosening its jaws ready to take its biggest and deepest bite of me yet. Second, after that bite I openly admitted that I was suffering from depression and after still failing to recover from it I eventually blogged about it [myself]

In so doing I have come across many people who themselves have suffered. I have found as well as given solace through publicly joining them.

Some folks have responded to my blogposts or tweets as demonstrating some sort of bravery. To be honest I do not feel brave nor do I feel as though I have the zeal of the convert. Being so self-critical means I am more likely to feel that deep down it’s just self-publicity that I am after. The more retweets, likes, link clicks and shares I have received the happier I have been.

I also suppose that my openness in saying that I was suffering from depression was to ensure that there was little doubt in the minds of others. Scotching rumours at the start has meant no need to be the subject of the idle gossip and chatter of others (if that even matters).

On the one hand I cannot recommend that everyone and anyone who suffers from a mental health issue is equally open. Yet, on the other it is necessary in order that others feel less of a stigma about doing so.

Those who may feel they are suffering must have easier access to help and support, whenever it is needed. That may take folks like me – and you to be more open and to let people in on our conditions.

Yet, there is a glaring uncertainty that I still face – my return to work.

It’s easy to tweet and post about my condition. I do so not to a face but to a screen. It could be said that well wishes are also returned in this way. An unanswered question is how will colleagues treat me upon my return? Will kid gloves and sympathy be the order of the day? Will people be more distant to ‘give me space’? Will they become closer to show empathy, understanding and care?

I have called for institutions to become better at looking after their people. This though will be undertaken through the human interactions that so often build us up or bring us down. For many it is these that bring about people’s depression or form the barrier to their acceptance of their illness.

We must all become more self-aware as to the impact on ourselves and others of what we do and say.

The best me, the best you, the best us are all yet to come, and what’s more, we get to make them. I believe that we will need to de-stigmatise mental illness as one step in bringing them about.

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. 
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?
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.

The Need for Collegiate Decisions on Delaying new NQ Higher

Remarks in support of Motion E at SSTA Congress

May 2014

Congress believes that the philosophy underpinning Scotland’s curriculum is one of respecting the professional judgment of teachers and calls upon all local authority and school managers to ensure that decisions on implementing new Higher qualifications in 2014/15 or 2015/16 are taken in a genuinely collegiate manner at school and departmental level.

Education Committee 


This motion came out of the Education committee’s concern.

Concern in believing the ministerial announcement on any delay implementing the new Higher.
Concern that a sound business case for delay at department level would face a block either at local authority or at school level.
Because frankly, the minister can say what he wants.
He is not in charge of presentation policy in your school, my school or any school.
To test our concern we submitted a Freedom of Information request to each local authority that asked the following:
How many secondary schools do you manage?
Will any secondary schools under your management present S5 candidates for the ‘old’ higher in session 2014-15?

Where the answer to 2 is yes:
3. How many schools will continue to offer old compared with the new Higher?
4. In which subjects?
We have still to receive a small number of responses but I can share with you what we have so far been able to reveal.
First all local authorities were able to answer question 1. Most even did so correctly.
There were a mixed bag of responses with some giving a subject by subject, school by school breakdown.

Others were more vague.
There are clearly some subjects which show a fairly consistent pattern across the country of delaying.
Amongst these but not exclusively are: Computing, the 3 sciences and Geography.

Indeed it seems as though the subjects showing the most change are the ones that are more likely to be delayed in the coming year.
Congress, if a wee FOI request from the SSTA can reveal this information –  one has to ask why no one else seems to be gathering it – let alone acting on it?
Mind you there was one local authority who I will not name and whilst they could tell us how many schools they had, they didn’t have the information on the other questions.

In other words they have no idea which school is doing what let alone which department.
Some councils responded to us that yes they’d be pushing ahead with the new Higher.

But would be doing so through working with Principal Teachers to see what support was needed.
Others are bringing subject groups together to look at what they need and what they collectively can support one another in doing. 

In some cases, an initial desire to press ahead is being reviewed in the light of teacher and school concerns over:

SQA issues, departmental capability and what is best for pupils.

But Congress, we cannot have a postcode lottery of delay or support yet this is exactly what seems to be happening.

Even if our information from local authorities as accurate, we cannot tell if such flexibility is a reality in schools.

Because not all schools have the sort of collegiate discussions to ensure that the best decisions are made.
Congress, the ministerial announcement did not and could not promise a veto over the new higher for teachers alone.

It is right that an appropriate case is made by departments to either move ahead with the new higher or continue with the old.
But Congress, when such a case is made in needs to be listened to – and acted upon.

It is in nobody’s interest that out of ignorance nor vanity nor dogma or some other reason that a decision is made.
Of course, a major reason for delay and worries over implementation is an anger at the SQA.

But just as we should be angry at the SQA for what they have done to us, we should be angry at Education Scotland for what they’ve failed to do for us.

The SQA had to come up with a qualifications system that followed on from a broad general education. 

Education Scotland were to support teachers to ensure a Broad General education was in place and that the preparation for the new qualifications was too.
In these tasks Education Scotland have not just been found wanting they have been virtually invisible.
Whilst some have accused the SQA of incompetence, Education Scotland can rightly be accused of negligence.
In our survey relating to preparedness for implementation, it is worthwhile to note many things.
One being that as well as SQA being the subject of members’  criticism, Education Scotland were not that far behind.
With 93% of respondents indicating that support from Education Scotland was inadequate.
In response there will be steps taken by SQA, by Education Scotland and by others to ensure that lessons are learned from how National 4 and 5 have been implemented.

But with new timetables barely a few weeks away, action is needed urgently to provide support for the future and not just an evaluation of the past.

Congress the reality is that we are all implementing new Higher if not this year then next.

We need a collegiate discussion and decision on this in each and every school – 

and support for departments whatever decision is made.

This requires the input and a commitment to a collegiate discussion and agreement from all.

And we urge all agents involved in such decisions to ensure that the right decision is made for the right reasons.

Please support the motion.

Investigating the gender imbalance in the teaching profession.

Remarks to SSTA Congress in moving the following motion:

Congress, in noting the current gender imbalance within the teacher profession, calls upon the Scottish Government, together with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, to commission such research as is necessary to investigate and identify the causal factors of this research, and to recommend specific steps that might be taken so that the gap might be reduced.

Over my teaching career we have seen a significant change in the gender makeup of the teacher workforce.

When I was at Jordanhill in 1996, the secondary teacher workforce reflected the gender make up of Scottish society – 49% male. 51% female.
Since then, the proportion of male teachers has seen a steady decline with the census in 2012 showing the gender split as 38% male and 62% female.
SSTA membership reflects this too with current membership data showing that the gender split is 36% male and 64% female.
If we add in the figures for primary teachers the picture is even more stark –
in 2012 the overall proportion of teachers who were male was only 23% 
8% in primary and 4 per cent in the pre-school sector.
However, simply looking at the overall figures for men and women, masks important variation between subjects:
In 2006 over 95% of Home Economics teachers were female and almost 90% of Technical Education teachers were male and whilst the proportion of female Technical teachers by 2012 had almost doubled to 19% the number of male Home Economics teachers had halved to 2.5 %
In my own subject modern studies where in 2006 there was virtual gender parity – women now make up 57%.
Some of these changes can partially be accounted for through the retirement of older teachers a majority of whom were men – at the same time as in increasing proportion of new entrants to the profession were younger women.  
Why is this a potential issue anyway? 
Congress, it is my view that a heavily gendered teaching profession potentially forms a barrier to achieving gender equality.
Wether it is in the case of visible role models or the more hidden messages received by pupils.
But, the focus of the motion is not to get bogged down in the potential effects of these trends it is to seek to establish the causes of them.
There are myriad potential factors playing out that research has thrown up:
Differing views that men and women have about the job of a teacher, the conditions attached or the pay and prospects.
Males may be less likely to have voluntary teaching experience and this could impact on their chances of admission to teacher training;
Some suggest that teaching – even in the secondary sector is increasingly being seen as a caring role as the care and welfare expectations of staff increase.
These are before we even consider the negative press that all-too-often our profession receives from the media.
Congress, recent events may make the gender gap accelerate.
Hardly a week goes by it seems without a previously popular male light entertainment figure being arrested, charged, jailed or bailed
for alleged sexual offences against children and young people.
Indeed I know of some small-scale research carried out in New Zealand amongst male pre-school teachers that found that firstly, there were only 4 in the town and secondly all had at some point in their careers had faced accusations of inappropriate touching of children in their care.
The challenge in restoring a more representative balance in the make up of the profession may be in the process of becoming even harder.
Recently a study from Strathclyde University into the experience of male teachers in primary schools was reported in TESS as finding: 
“…a gender divide in primary teaching: explicitly and implicitly, men and women are often expected to perform different roles and bring different qualities to the job.”
The question for us, is wether or not we as secondary teachers perpetuate a similar gender divide.
The same TESS report notes that this research echoes GTCS commissioned research from 2005
This analysed the extent to which the teaching profession was drawn from and mirrored the whole community that it serves.
This research found significant differences between the composition of the profession and the people of Scotland in relation not only to gender but also social class, ethnicity, disability and sexuality amongst others.
The report called for a number of actions to be taken including taking into account the  ‘total gender regime of schools and teacher education institutions.’ avoiding over-simplification of the issue and developing strong anti-bias education and non-discriminatory practice. 
But what happened?
Not much.
The situation was raised in late 2010 in ‘Teaching Scotland’s Future by Donaldson who noted the gender imbalance but only said that along with wider challenges of recruitment: “Future policies need to address these challenges.”
However, in the National Partnership Group response to Donaldson the word gender is not not even mentioned, far less the challenge being addressed.
The Scottish Government and GTCS should go back to that 2005 research and re-examine the issue as things stand now.
Congress, I believe it’s time to attempt to get to the heart of the gender imbalance in our profession in order to establish genuine not perceived causal factors.
Only then can we move beyond stereotypes, and seek to ensure that our profession reflects our society and that gender equality is a possibility.