The Scottish Government has just one week to improve its pay offer to teachers or union members will vote on strike action, the EIS has warned.
Speaking to a conference of headteachers in Edinburgh, Education Secretary John Swinney said that negotiations were ongoing but that “a huge amount of public money” had been offered to teachers for a pay deal.
However, EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan said that teachers feel undervalued and insisted that the Government must improve its pay deal or risk strikes.
With a ballot on whether teachers should strike due next Monday, Mr Swinney said negotiations were still ongoing but warned: “If there is a period of industrial action then clearly the agenda of progress in Scottish education would be disrupted.”
Mr Swinney, who is also Deputy First Minister, told the EIS headteacher conference: “We’ve put a very strong pay offer on the table – a very different offer and significantly better offer than is available to any other public-sector workforce in the United Kingdom.
“I’m committed to working with the profession to try to resolve the pay claim.”
He added afterwards: “I don’t think anyone in the country – parents, government ministers, teachers, headteachers – wants a strike.
“The Government is making a contribution of a quarter of a billion pounds towards this pay deal – it’s a huge amount of public money.
“Two out of the three professional associations that have been balloted have accepted the offer and 43% of EIS members voting have voted for it.
“The gap between acceptance and rejection of this pay deal is 2,500 teachers out of 50,000 – there is a lot of teachers who want this pay deal and I want to constructively engage in the discussions to resolve these issues.”
Meetings between the two sides are due to continue next week and Mr Flanagan said: “The only thing that will stop the ballot will be an improved offer, to date that hasn’t been forthcoming but we continue to be in dialogue seeking a negotiated settlement rather than continue to the strike action.
Despite the long-running dispute over pay threatening to overshadow the conference, Mr Flanagan praised the Education Secretary’s speech about giving teachers more autonomy.
He said: “It’s ironic that we’re in a pay dispute when we’re actually on the same page around empowering schools.
“There are a lot of good things going on in Scottish education, if we can get the pay dispute resolved then it actually creates a more conducive environment for taking forward his education agendas, which is critical to what our members do on a daily basis.”
Mr Flanagan also welcomed Mr Swinney’s apparent support for changes to school inspections and grading.
The Education Secretary expressed a wish for a system “where the chief inspector can consider whether or not there is a case for not having grades, but simply having a commentary which gives very clear indications of what steps are required to improve the performance of that school”.
In response to the comments about inspections, Mr Flanagan said: “You don’t want to create an environment where it’s fear of failure that motivates people rather than the joy of success.
“We would welcome – as the Deputy First Minister did – a look at whether it is appropriate to be ranking school inspections rather than going in and doing what you would do with pupils; identifying development needs without necessarily saying ‘you’ve failed this’.”
HM Chief Inspector for Education Gayle Gorman said: “Inspections are carried out independent of the Deputy First Minister and any changes to the system will be a decision for Education Scotland.
“While we are always striving to make improvements to the inspection process, there have been no formal plans made to make any changes.
“However, as we move towards a more empowered system of education and explore new ways of working, we will also continue to strive to make improvements to the inspection process.
“But rest assured that any alternative system of inspection reporting would have to match the current system in being clear about a school’s strengths and weaknesses.”