Teachers quizzed Fife politicians on how they would tackle education issues if they were successful in today’s local elections.
A hustings was organised by teaching union Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and held on Tuesday evening.
EIS Fife president, Pauline Stewart, asked candidates and MSP Willie Rennie a series of questions on behalf of teachers in the area.
Below are four key questions asked on behalf of union members and responses from:
- Kathleen Leslie, Scottish Conservatives. Standing for re-election in Burntisland, Kinghorn and Western Kirkcaldy. Former teacher and current EIS member.
- Lewis Campbell, Scottish Greens, Standing for election in Dunfermline central. Supply teacher in geography and current EIS member.
- Colin Davidson, Scottish Labour. Standing for re-election in Leven, Kennoway and Largo. Teacher for more than 30 years.
- Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrats MSP for North East Fife. Not a candidate in these elections however Willie is spokesperson for education for his party.
- Craig Walker, SNP. Hoping for re-election in Glenrothes West and Kinglassie and reappointment to the Fife Council education committee.
Question from Tony Russell, a primary teacher: “Whilst the Scottish Government has set targets to significantly reduce levels of child poverty by 2030, it is not on track to meet the 2023 interim child poverty targets or to reach the final aims of the Child Poverty Act. How would your party respond to this failing?”
Colin said: “It is a badge of shame which I wear, poverty has gone up in my area – 30% of children in my area live in poverty.
“The way I would deal with it is to give the local community they money to deal with it at a local level, this top down approach where the money is scattered doesn’t work.”
Willie said: “We will need to do some direct contributions to people who are struggling.
“Child payment has increased but we need to increase it again. I don’t think families really understand what will hit them when they turn the heating on in autumn.”
Craig said: “With the energy crisis we need to understand who is behind it – it is the UK Government. They have capped at 50% which says rather a lot, that they would rather protect shareholders than energy users.”
Kathleen said: “We need to get the budget de-centralised. Far too often decisions are centralised when they are better addressed locally.
“We need to get better at engaging with families. Cafe Inc is a great example of that but uptake is low – I’m not convinced that is a positive.”
Lewis said: “We need rent caps – I teach kids whose parents are paying too high rent and they are stressed about jobs and work and the kids come into school stressed.
“We need to look at Council Tax, cancel all outstanding school dinner debt and put a cap on uniform prices. We need to think of poverty as a whole.”
Additional support for pupils
Question from Paul Jeffrey, an ASN (additional support needs) teacher in Fife: “The pandemic has increased the already high level of demand for additional support needs. Do the panel members support proper resourcing to fill the gap between the promise of additional support for learning and the reality of additional support needs provision?”
Willie said: “I welcome the decision to mainstream additional support but the teachers haven’t been provided with the necessary skills.
“Sometimes it’s chaos in the class because teachers can’t cope with the variety of needs – one in three kids have an additional need of some form.
“Schools are struggling to cope, with large classes. I welcome the decision but not the lack of resources.”
Craig said: “AS teachers do an amazing job but we do have more work to do. They receive a variety of support and there needs to be a level playing field.”
Kathleen said: “We have AS in all Fife secondary schools except one, but it needs to be resourced properly.
“We are aiming to roll out training to all probationary teachers but we also need to ensure that qualified teachers are given proper training.”
Lewis said: “ASN capacity is not where it should be. Success is staying in class for 45 minutes – that is not enough. They need a PAS (pupil support assistant) at the least – sometimes entire classes are being failed.”
Super-head management model
Question from Jane McKeown, Fife EIS Secretary: “One of the reasons given for the Waid cluster model was the difficulty in recruiting and then retaining high quality head teachers in the East Neuk. What do you think could be done to make those jobs more attractive?”
Colin said: “People don’t want to apply for head teacher posts because of the workload that’s expected of them – people are more aware of a work/life balance since the pandemic.
“There isn’t enough training available for new head teachers and the more experienced ones don’t want it.
“There needs to be investment in the headship program and they need to be graded to see if they are suitable for the job.”
We need to find a way forward”
MSP Willie Rennie
Willie said: “It’s not just Fife, other councils are looking at this, but it should never have got to this stage. One post with nine schools to manage is equally unattractive for applicants.
“There are benefits of partnerships, but I don’t believe one (head teacher) for nine (schools) is nurturing a school community – it’s one of the disadvantages of getting rid of promoted posts.
“We need to find a way forward if we’re not getting any applicants, I’m really sad and frustrated we have got to this point.”
Pupil-to-teacher contact time
Question from Graeme Keir, English teacher in Fife: “An OECD review found that Scottish teachers have more contact time with classes than teachers in other European countries. How will you prioritise a reduction in contact time for teachers in Fife so that Fife’s teachers can adequately plan to improve experiences for learners?”
Craig said: “The simple answer is that we need to get more teachers, that’s the way ahead. We do need improvement and that’s one thing we do need to achieve.”
Kathleen said: “Teachers have seen an increase in workload over the last two years. We need to look at how we attract teachers to Fife and if we are recruiting enough.”
Lewis said: “We need more teachers, but where are the jobs? There are qualified teachers working in temporary posts or supply where there is a permanent need but there is not a permanent post.
“I’m aware we need to decrease class sizes too so there is an even greater need for teachers – we need to hire them.”
Colin said: “People are looking to get out of teaching because they can’t stand the pressure or what’s in front of them.
“We need to look at how we recruit and how we retain teachers. There needs to be major investment, people are at breaking point.”