Teachers have threatened the Scottish Government and councils with strike action if agreement is not reached on a programme for securing maximum class sizes of 20.

On the first day of their Annual General Meeting (AGM), members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country's largest teaching union, overwhelmingly backed a motion that seeks the establishment of nine-year targets for phased, incremental reductions in class sizes and contact time.

It means the possibility of industrial action up to and including strikes will be on the table if a deal is not nailed down by the end of September next year. 

The move is part of the union's 20/20 campaign, which aims to cut maximum class sizes and weekly class contact hours to 20. 

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, who will address EIS delegates on Friday, said the Government would be funding councils to increase teacher numbers by 1,000. She also stressed action was being taken to reduce contact time by an hour and a half per week. 

Allan Crosbie moved the Edinburgh Local Association motion during Thursday's session of the AGM, which is being held virtually.

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He said: “The aim of... talks will be to agree a phased programme of reductions in class sizes and contact hours – and our aim in those negotiations will be for that programme to reach our desired numbers of 20 pupils for class sizes, and 20 hours for maximum class contact, by the start of the school session in 2030.

“Only if the 12 months of negotiation end without an agreed programme for phased reductions will we then move to a ballot for industrial action.

"During the year of negotiations, the EIS will step up its 20/20 campaign in order to convince members of its importance and in order to persuade them of the need for a ballot if agreement cannot be reached through negotiation."

He added: "On the issue of the ballot, our demands for that recovery by 2030 will not be met simply by asking nicely or by the force of the arguments that we've heard throughout today's debates, or by waiting patiently for the Scottish Government to keep its election promises on contact hours... We do need the threat of our collective strength in order to achieve success and in order to force the government to fund education properly, and beyond perhaps what they want to spend." 

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The teachers received support from Michael Marra, of Scottish Labour, who said: "Despite over a decade of SNP promises on class sizes, our hard-working teachers are still having to threaten strike action.

"After 14 years of nationalist government we have 1700 fewer teachers in schools and some of the highest contact time requirements in the OECD.

"Ministers don’t understand the scale of the challenges that are ahead, and must take into account what they are being told by the profession — and act."

Ms Somerville said: “We will continue to do everything we can to maximise the number of jobs available for teachers.

“In the first 100 days of this Parliamentary term, we will fund councils to increase teacher numbers by 1,000. This is part of our commitment to 3,500 additional teachers and support assistants over the parliamentary term, over and above the additional teachers recruited during the pandemic.

“We are also taking action, through the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, on reducing class contact time, in line with the manifesto commitment to reduce teachers’ daily contact time by an hour and a half per week.”

HeraldScotland: Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said action was being taken to improve conditions for Scottish teachers.Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said action was being taken to improve conditions for Scottish teachers.

She added: “Pay negotiations for the 2021 pay award are on-going and we are playing our part in those discussions. The last pay deal delivered a generous pay rise that teachers deserved – a minimum 13 per cent pay increase, significantly higher than anywhere else in the UK.”

Cosla, which represents councils, declined to comment.

Earlier in the day, Mr Crosbie presented another motion, also carried, that called for an investigation into alternatives to the current school inspection system.

"In thriving systems like Finland’s, inspections don’t even exist," he told the AGM. 

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"Maybe one of the first things to investigate and report on is this: Why should Scotland not scrap inspections altogether?... Examine what happens in their stead in places like Finland and what benefits to our system might accrue from the dismantling of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education completely." 

A spokeswoman said Education Scotland - which oversees inspections - worked "collaboratively to tackle critical issues facing the profession including workload and teacher empowerment".

She added: "Our focus is, and has always been, on supporting the system and the profession. Our approach and our delivery models allow us to work effectively alongside and in partnership with the system - helping us identify, understand and support requirements nationally, regionally, and locally.  

“Our strong focus on learning, teaching, leadership and empowerment, and our strengthened partnership working, has contributed to our development of a range of programmes of support."