Pupil indiscipline, school buildings, Brexit and teachers’ pay were all on the agenda at the largest NASUWT Scotland Conference yet.
‘Unjustified’ drug and alcohol tests condemnedRepresentatives condemned plans by some local authorities in Scotland to subject teachers to alcohol and drug testing at work without any justification and without appropriate safeguards.
The introduction of ‘random’ and ‘with cause’ alcohol and drugs tests are being planned by three local authorities in Scotland despite serious reservations being expressed by the NASUWT and other professional bodies about their appropriateness and despite a lack of information for employees about how the results will be used.
Moving the motion, Ex-President Eddie Carroll said that while there is no acceptance of any teacher being under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the workplace, these policies could leave teachers vulnerable to dismissal.
He said: “The consultation process has been cosmetic. We asked councils for evidence of why these policies should be brought in and not a single shred of evidence was provided by any of the three councils who are currently adopting these policies.”
Mr Carroll explained that the councils are talking about teachers needing to provide ‘non negative’ tests which the NASUWT has interpreted as zero drugs or alcohol. As Mr Carroll pointed out, this leaves teachers open to failing these tests, particularly after attending events such as a weekend wedding or break.
“We have asked the councils if there is any evidence of impairment in the performance of teachers between the zero level and the legal alcohol limit for driving and they have failed to provide us with a single shred of evidence yet again” he said, adding that it may create a situation where teachers choose not to go to school after a weekend event rather than risk failing a test.
Teachers should be involved in the design and development of new school builds, representatives argued, as too many new school buildings are unsafe and completely unfit for purpose.
New build schools ‘not fit for purpose’
Representatives working in new build schools detailed a catalogue of problems, including classrooms with no doors, insufficient storage and which are unsafe for practical subjects and corridors which are too narrow for all pupils to move around safely. Specific examples included one school which has an open plan music department, another with dangerous concrete steps and balconies and another with exposed cabling.
Ann Jane Milgrew from the East Dunbartonshire Association said: “Qualified teachers should design new buildings, not architects and certainly not education officials who are unwilling to listen to the teachers who work in the classrooms.”
She added: “After spending the last two years in this newly built school there is never a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could return to the 140 year old building that we left. Although not perfect, this old building was a much more suitable learning environment for pupils.”
Giving the example of ICT provision she said: “We no longer have an IT suite so we are reliant on laptops with a limited battery life and which are past their sell by date. Every time I conduct an ICT lesson there are usually five or six laptops that don’t work and as we don’t have enough electrical sockets for charging they run out of battery when you are just getting into the lesson.”
Action to tackle pupil indisciplineRepresentatives gave their backing to the Union’s industrial action campaign by demanding a zero tolerance approach to pupil violence and abuse.
National Executive Member Mike Corbett cited the latest figures from NASUWT research showing that 66% of teachers in Scotland have been subject to verbal abuse by a pupil in the last year and 17% have been physical assaulted.
He said: “Teachers are reporting an increase in physical and verbal abuse to us but too often they are not reporting it to their employers.
“I know of one Scottish local authority where for the last two quarters the number of verbal assaults reported on teachers was zero for one quarter and one for the most recent quarter. The reasons for that underreporting are pretty clear, it is either overly bureaucratic and time consuming systems which make it difficult and time-consuming to report those incidents or it is plain old bullying where teachers are actively discouraged from reporting such incidents.”
The NASUWT is continuing to challenge the abuse of teachers and Mr Corbett cited the example of Kaimes School in Edinburgh, where last year NASUWT members took strike action over the lack of action by their employer to tackle the serious physical and verbal abuse they were experiencing. Pupil indiscipline is now included in the trade dispute the Union has lodged with the Cabinet Secretary and Mr Corbett told representatives that the Union would support members to take all action, including strikes, to secure their right to teach in a safe environment.
“Pupil abuse of staff is unacceptable, pupil abuse of staff deserves to be sanctioned and pupil abuse of staff is not the teachers’ fault” he said.