Scotland's Teachers Deserve a New Deal

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Teachers across the country are currently in the throes of considering a pay offer made by their employers and the Government, which has emerged after months of discussion. 

Public sector workers’ pay, particularly teachers’ pay, always generates much public debate.

Inevitably at some point in that debate, teaching will be characterised as short hours and long holidays. Because everyone has been to school, everyone has an opinion on the job, and believes they are an expert.

The fact is that good teachers make a highly complex and demanding job look easy. Teaching is not rocket science; it’s actually harder than that.

But despite teachers’ hard work and dedication, there is a growing crisis in the teaching profession and unless government and employers face facts and accept this, then the entitlement of all children and young people to high-quality education is being placed in jeopardy.

Pay is in fact only one part of the problem and whatever the outcome of the current deliberations on pay, the fact is there will still be a significant pay gap between teachers’ pay and other comparable graduate professions, making teaching unattractive and uncompetitive.

For the overwhelming majority of teachers, 86% in fact, spiralling and excessive workload is blighting their professional lives, distracting them from focusing on teaching and learning, encroaching on their evenings, weekends and holidays and adversely affecting their health and wellbeing.

Eighty-one per cent (81%) of teachers in the last 12 months say that their job has impacted negatively on their mental health. Over three quarters of teachers report feeling constantly anxious about their job and losing sleep over it; 40% have consulted a doctor or other medical practitioner in the last 12 months on work-related issues.

The pressures of declining pay levels and excessive workload are now being exacerbated by teachers’ growing concerns about pupil indiscipline.

Eighty-seven per cent (87%) of teachers believe there is a widespread problem of poor pupil behaviour across schools and two thirds believe there is a problem in their own school.
 
Well over half of teachers (57%) report being verbally abused by a pupil in the last 12 months, 16% have been threatened with physical assault and 13% have actually been assaulted. Almost half of teachers report not being supported in tackling indiscipline or being made to feel they are to blame.
 
Add to this the catalogue of vile abuse from pupils and parents, particularly on Facebook, commenting on teachers’ sexuality, appearance and competence, making racist remarks, allegations of child abuse, and even death threats and threats of rape, is it any wonder that the toxic mix of pay cuts, spiralling workload and pupil indiscipline has led to almost three quarters (71%) of teachers saying that they have considered quitting teaching altogether in the last year?

If government and employers want to retain and recruit good teachers, then they need to take these issues seriously.

Teachers need more than politicians wringing their hands and saying they recognise there is a problem with excessive workload. They deserve better than being told that being verbally and physically abused is all part of the job. They need an end to the annual pay lottery.

Over the last few years, the gold standard of pay and conditions of service for teachers in Scotland, once the envy of teachers across the UK, has been dramatically and shamefully eroded away. This has to end.

Teachers need a new deal. A new deal on working conditions which removes excessive workload burdens and enables them to focus on teaching and learning.

A new deal which takes action on pupil behaviour, ensuring teachers have a safe working environment and are treated with dignity at work. A new deal which provides pay levels which recognise and reward them as highly skilled professionals.

As teachers’ pay and working conditions are inextricably linked to high standards of education, a new deal for teachers will benefit the children and young people they teach.

Teachers provide one of the most important of our public services. The work they do sets the firm foundations for those who become our doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers and indeed all workers who make such vital contributions to our public and private sectors.

Teachers change lives and build nations. A new deal in that context is a small price to pay.