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Targeted strike action by teachers ‘indefensible’ – Swinney

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has branded targeted strike action by teachers in the constituencies of key politicians “indefensible”.

Children attending school in areas represented by politicians including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon are missing more days of lessons as Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members begin six days of “targeted” strike action.

Many schools in the affected areas are closed for three days from Wednesday as the union escalates industrial action in the long-running dispute over pay, with a further three days of action planned next month.

Teachers on the picket line
Teachers on the picket line outside Glendale Primary and Glendale Gaelic School in Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Parents have voiced concerns over the targeted action, branding it “inequitable and unfair” for pupils in the affected areas.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said his family is one of those affected by the action as his son will not be at school for the next three days.

The Perthshire North MSP told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I am very, very sorry to families and to young people who are having to experience this, I think it is completely inequitable.”

He complained about the action being taken by the EIS, saying children in the constituencies of some politicians are being “inequitably targeted”.

John Swinney
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has hit out at the strike action (Jane Barlow/PA)

He added: “I think it is indefensible.”

The union has also singled out the areas covered by Scottish Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scottish Green education spokesman Ross Greer and Katie Hagmann, the resources spokeswoman for local authority body Cosla, for the targeted action.

The action will be on top of national strikes on February 28 and March 1, and another 20 days of rolling walkouts across Scotland’s local authorities between March 13 and April 21, following strikes earlier in 2023 and late last year.

It comes after the EIS rejected the latest pay offer put to it by Ms Somerville, the MSP for Dunfermline in Fife, which would have meant a 6% pay boost backdated to April 2022 for teachers who earn up to £80,000 and a further 5.5% from the start of the 2023 financial year, in what is the fifth offer put to them.

Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency is one of the areas targeted (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Swinney said he could not understand why the offer has not been put to EIS members.

He said: “It is in excess of 10%, it would be in teachers’ pay packets by the end of April, an 11.5% increase and it is not being put to members.

“I think that requires reconsideration because teachers need to be given the chance to vote on that.”

EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley responded: “What is indefensible is the chronic under-funding of education over many years, including teachers’ pay.

“It is also indefensible that teachers have been compelled by a Government that claims a commitment to fair work to take a fourth day of strike action in pursuit of a fair pay settlement.

“Schools have been starved of funding and resources, and the number of teachers and support staff employed across Scotland has declined – placing ever more pressure on already overburdened teachers.

“Teachers have been subject to many years of real-terms pay erosion, and this has been brought to a head by the current cost-of-living crisis with RPI inflation hitting more than 14%.

“The Scottish Government was given ample warning that teachers would expect a fair pay increase this year, but have dragged the process out for more than a year with little progress towards a fair deal.”

Speaking on a picket line at Pollokshields Primary in Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow Southside constituency, EIS Glasgow secretary Susan Quinn said teachers will end the strike tomorrow if employers bring a “proper offer” to the table.

The picket line outside Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline
The picket line outside Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline (Jane Barlow/PA)

She told the PA news agency: “The targeted action has been taken because we don’t believe that the Scottish Government or Cosla are taking seriously the claims of teachers across this country so we looked to target and try to end the action as quickly as possible by targeting those who are directly involved in the decision-making process.

“The action will continue until our members are satisfied with the offer on the table. That’s the reality they’re in now, our members want to see a proper pay rise, they are frustrated by the lack of efforts on the part of the Scottish Government in particular and in Cosla to actually end this action.

“We’ll end it tomorrow if they bring a proper offer to the table.”

Leanne McGuire, chairwoman of the Glasgow City Parents Group, said it does not support the targeted action, warning it could increase inequality and voicing concern about missed learning.

She told the PA news agency: “We’re coming up to exam season now and young people are trying to maximise the amount of teaching time and in-class time that they can have to revise for their exams, and it seems really inequitable and unfair that pupils in that area are going to have six less days of in-school time than other areas of Glasgow, so that’s why as a committee we just cannot support this type of action in any way.

“The Scottish attainment gap continues to widen, that’s a fact, it’s not exactly narrowed or anything, and particularly the issue that we have is the areas within the southside constituency, the majority of that is areas of high deprivation, so these young people are already disadvantaged during education as it is, and to then add another six days on top of that just further disadvantages them.”

Ms Somerville said she is “bitterly disappointed” that the EIS “is threatening continued industrial action in the run up to the exam diet”.

She has appealed to teaching unions to suspend industrial action as pay talks continue.

A Cosla spokesman said: “Given the funding assurances received from the Scottish Government, leaders submitted a fifth offer to the trade unions which was rejected.

“Cosla leaders and the Scottish Government are clear that it is in all of our interests, not least those of children, young people and families, to conclude the teachers’ pay negotiations as quickly as we can to bring back stability and certainty in our schools.

“Pay talks are continuing and we would appeal to our trade union colleagues to suspend their industrial action while these discussions are ongoing.”