ALTHOUGH we still have some way to go in suppressing the coronavirus, it is critically important that we start to plan for post-pandemic recovery and lay down the structures for how we build back better than before.
The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) is very clear that the role of education must be central to the nation’s recovery and with the elections to the Scottish Parliament set to take place on May 6, the EIS is calling on all political parties to commit to enhanced support for Scottish education to support that recovery.
The importance of education has been brought into sharp relief during the coronavirus pandemic, with politicians at local and national levels frequently highlighting the vital importance of education to our young people, to our economy and to the future of our country as a whole.
Despite its importance, education has been subjected to many challenges in recent years.
Even prior to the extreme stresses brought by coronavirus, investment in schools, in staff and in support for young people has been insufficient too often.
The EIS Manifesto for Education makes the case for increased investment to support an education-led recovery — including substantial investment in the recruitment of additional teachers to support that recovery.
During the last school session, extra funding was announced to support local authorities in recruiting additional teachers to support education through the pandemic.
The reality is that all of these posts have been temporary appointments and now thousands of teachers are unsure as to whether they will even have a job next year.
At the present time, more than one in 10 teachers are on temporary contracts or “zero-hours” supply staff lists.
That is quite scandalous and is one of the reasons why year on year we lose qualified teachers who struggle to secure permanent posts in their chosen career.
Precarious employment in any field of work is unacceptable — for it to exist on the scale it does within a declared policy priority of government and in a public-sector context is a disgrace.
A recent EIS national survey indicated that some teachers on supply lists have had little or no work during the pandemic.
This has forced many to take on alternative employment to make ends meet, with a significant number leaving the profession altogether and moving into different careers.
In some cases, it has been local authority practices which have created the problem — as the employers, councils have a key role to play in combating the short-termism of temporary employment.
From the 2020 graduation group, for example, over 500 newly qualified teachers are no longer registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).
The challenge around education recovery is immense, however, and if we are to meet the needs of young people, Scotland needs more teachers — and they must be offered secure jobs, with an end to the zero-hours culture on the employment of supply teachers.
Key to this is ensuring that funding streams themselves are not temporary.
A political battle between national and local government does little to help schools meet the challenge of recovery.
Employing more teachers would help to reduce class sizes, ensuring that students receive tailored support that meets their needs; it would enable an increase in the specialist provision required for young people with additional support needs; it would support our pupils and students who have suffered a traumatic experience during the pandemic, with the impact often being felt most acutely by young people already facing disadvantage caused by poverty.
Throughout the pandemic, Scotland’s political parties have repeatedly emphasised the importance of education, and educators, to the national recovery.
The EIS absolutely agrees with this sentiment, but we are also extremely clear that it will take more than just fine words from politicians to deliver this ambition.
Larry Flanagan is general secretary of the EIS.