This article appears as part of the Lessons to Learn newsletter.

Pay claims and strike plans

This week, Scotland’s teachers submitted their pay claim for the coming year. Arrangements for teachers’ salaries are made – at least in theory – through the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, which is made up of unions, local government (who actually employ teachers) and the Scottish Government (which actually holds the purse strings and is, in effect, the decision-maker).

As of 1 August this year, teachers are pushing for a 6.5% pay increase across the board, which the EIS describes as being “slightly above the current rate of inflation”.

Between April 2022 and June 2023, inflation never fell below 7.3% and reached a peak of 9.6%, so although the latest official inflation figure is 5.2%, that doesn’t paint a full picture of how living costs have risen in recent years. And of course, inflation falling just means prices go up a little less quickly.

The EIS also argues that the actual value of teachers’ salaries has fallen since 2008, and that a 6.5% increase now would be “a modest step towards restoring teachers' pay to the levels established in the Teaching Profession for the 21st Century agreement”.

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Scotland – as well as many other countries – is also struggling to recruit teachers, especially in subject areas where graduates can earn much more than would ever be possible working in a classroom. Would better pay levels – perhaps significantly so – have any sort of impact on this problem?

The union has called on the government and councils to “negotiate in good faith” to ensure that this pay deal is settled on time, and everyone has to hope that happens, but there’s no getting away from the obvious question: is there any money left to pay for it?

If the state of the college sector is anything to go by, then the answer is no. As I write this, we are awaiting confirmation of the form of industrial action to be taken by lecturers fighting for better pay, with some sort of mixture of targeted strike action and perhaps a marking or resulting boycott probably the most likely outcome.

This dispute has been running since the autumn of 2022 and has been enormously disruptive, but the government’s response – on more than one occasion – has been to cut the sector’s funding rather than offer further investment.

It is not impossible that we could see teachers and lecturers on strike across the country in the months ahead.

Collaboration or chaos?

Back in November, education secretary Jenny Gilruth made a surprise announcement: Scotland’s Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RICs) are to be abandoned. The cut isn’t happening overnight – the government plans to “taper” their funding, apparently – but the end is definitely nigh.

But most people haven’t heard of RICs, and most teachers don’t seem to have ever engaged with one, so why does this matter? Because the story of RICs can tell us something about how education policy is made in Scotland.

RICs were set up in 2017 to encourage greater collaboration between councils, which sounds fine, but they also became part of a desperate attempt to save face after John Swinney was forced into the humiliating withdrawal of a flagship Education Bill.

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For years we were then told that RICs were a roaring success even though the consensus amongst teachers tended to be that they were largely irrelevant. Then we were told that they haven’t really succeeded after all as they’ve only helped a “minority”, so will be wound down.

But it doesn’t end there, because now we know about this Scottish Government report. It does say that “those accessing regional resources remain a minority”; however, the rest of that sentence suggests that progress is being made, but that further improvement “would require additional investment and/or the redeploying of existing resources”.

But instead of investment, the government decided to just pull the funding entirely.

For me, this is all a depressingly effective demonstration of the impact of erratic, short-term and, above all, politically-driven decision-making. Clowns and circuses springs to mind.

I don’t know if RICs would have eventually proved their worth – I do know that this expensive, multi-year debacle is no way to run a nation’s education system.

The Herald:

In Case You Missed It…

In last week’s debut edition of Lessons to Learn we revealed that Glasgow’s Advanced Higher Hub, set up to help young people from across the city into university, is to be scrapped due to budget cuts.

We followed that up this week by covering some of the reaction, with teachers, students and politicians joining calls to reverse the closure of this “ground-breaking” and “essential” programme. Two former students of the Hub – one the first and so far only member of his family to go to university, the other the first person from his school to get in to Oxford – have also written for us about how their experiences helped them access, and succeed at, university.

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Pretty much every single person I’ve spoken to about the Hub has told me the same thing: it’s not so much the completion of the qualifications that makes such a difference, but rather the experience of learning on a university campus and being treated – and challenged – like a university student.

This is (or at least it was) particularly the case for those with no family history of entry to higher education, and although the council are insistent that plans for schools to co-ordinate Advanced Higher provision will fill the gap, there is absolutely no doubt that something very special is about to be lost.