Teachers in West Dunbartonshire went on strike today – in action that is unprecedented in recent times in Scotland.
Members of the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, took the one-day action amid growing concerns about local cost-cutting plans to reduce the numbers of depute headteachers and pastoral staff. Principal teacher posts would also go, as different subjects are brought together into broader “faculties”.
The only strike involving Scottish teachers in recent years took place in 2011 when they joined a national day of action over pensions along with other public sector workers. The last national strike by EIS members specifically on education issues was in the 1980s.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said, at a campaign rally in Clydebank, that the action in West Dunbartonshire, which affected its five secondary schools and about 5,000 pupils, could provide a “template” for union branches in other cash-strapped local authorities.
Afterwards, he told TESS that the union’s West Dunbartonshire members had taken a lead because the proposed cuts “could not have come at a more inopportune time”, with teachers “at the end of their tether” as they contend with new national qualifications. He also believes the action resulted from the local council “very explicitly” admitting that plans were chiefly about saving money.
Teachers at the rally this morning – where it was standing room only in a hall with about 100 seats – stressed that their prime motivation was the wellbeing of pupils. One teacher was moved to tears when she said that cuts to pastoral support would affect pupils who were self-harming, suicidal or who had cancer.
EIS officials will meet with the council’s ruling Labour group tomorrow night in an attempt to prevent further action.
A West Dunbartonshire Council spokeswoman said that faculty structures existed in most Scottish local authorities and that unions had never previously taken industrial action against them.
She added: “Our own carefully considered structure is more generous in terms of school management posts than many. The management restructure will result in no reduction in teachers, no reduction in teaching time and no reduction in management time.”