Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union, said the use of strike action was critical to defend current working arrangements at a time of cuts.
The union also agreed to hold a ballot in November for a boycott of any further development work on the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which aims to modernise lessons and update exams.
CfE has been controversial because teachers think it is being introduced too quickly, with new secondary qualifications coming on stream in 2013 before schools are fully prepared. Cuts have made its introduction even more problematic.
The motions reflect mounting anger in the profession after the introduction last month of a two-year pay freeze and £45 million worth of education cuts by council body Cosla and the Scottish Government as part of moves to balance budgets.
There is even more concern about the threat from an ongoing review of teachers’ terms and conditions, known as the McCormac Review.
Proposals from Cosla submitted to the review suggest teachers should spend more time in the classroom, have holidays replaced with training days and lose protected time for marking and preparation. The review also suggested pay could be linked more closely to performance, and recommended greater use of short-term contracts.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS, said: “Cosla’s miserable submission to the McCormac Review lays bare their true agenda. It is little more than an attempt to shred every meaningful aspect that has brought stability and improvement to Scottish education over the past decade.”
Hugh Donnelly, secretary of the Glasgow local association of the EIS, said: “There is a fear out there among our members. We have to send a clear message that we will not tolerate a deterioration in our terms and conditions; that we will not pay for the cuts.”
Charlie McKinnon, also from the Glasgow branch, added: “If we don’t resort to industrial action there will be nothing left of our terms and conditions.”
The EIS backed a joint motion from local union associations representing Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, Aberdeenshire, South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire and Fife, calling on the EIS to “resist any deterioration in teachers’ conditions of service… and to oppose any imposition or change of conditions using industrial action if necessary”.
However, a further motion demanding a ballot over industrial action as soon as November was defeated after concerns it would come before the outcome of the McCormac Review.
On concerns about CfE, Ken Brown, a teacher from East Dunbartonshire, said schools were operating in an atmosphere of declining budgets but were still expected to deliver continuous improvement.
“We have to send a loud message that we need to stop this dizzying, ever-increasing rate of change,” he said.
Alison Murphy, from the Edinburgh branch of the EIS, said: “This is not the time to be rushing into new developments. If we keep trying to charge through with less and less, we will end up doing it all badly.”
Michael Dolan, from West Dunbartonshire, said: “We are not against change, but we need proper time and resources to implement change.
“We cannot experiment with the education of a generation of young people.”
EIS members also approved a motion to demand the Scottish Government increases the amount of money it is spending on CfE. The motion said the Government should set aside “adequate resources” needed to implement the changes.