Union Suspended from CfE Board after Industrial Action Threats

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A teaching Union has been suspended from the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) Management Board after refusing to lift threats of industrial action that threatened to disrupt the introduction of the new curriculum.

Education Secretary Mike Russell took the decision after the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) threatened to take industrial action if changes they had demanded were not made.

The CfE board was set up in 2008 in order to allow feedback to the cabinet secretary and to ensure that subsequent decisions taken by the secretary were implemented effectively.  However Mr Russell has described the threats of industrial action and the demand for changes as unacceptable and not compatible with the aims of the board and has suspended the Union until the threat of industrial action is lifted.

In a letter to the SSTA Mr Russell says:
“When the current Management Board was established in 2008, members, including the SSTA representative, agreed the role of the board was twofold. First, to provide advice to cabinet secretary on aspects of Curriculum for Excellence.

Secondly, to work together to ensure effective implementation of decisions made by cabinet secretary. There have been occasions when individual organisations have had reservations about the collective advice agreed by Management Board. However, the view has always been taken that, once decisions are made, the task becomes to implement them as effectively as possible.

Members, of course, retain the right, and indeed the duty, to raise concerns about deliverability and to press for action to be taken to address legitimate concerns. In my opinion, a shared commitment to delivery is not consistent with demanding changes to the fundamental principles of Curriculum for Excellence and threatening industrial action.

It is therefore with considerable regret that I conclude that SSTA membership of the Management Board is not sustainable in the present circumstances and that your membership of the board is suspended while this threat of industrial action remains.”

Threats of industrial action started in April this year after a survey apparently showed that 70% of secondary school teachers had issues with the new curriculum.  However it later emerged that only 24% of teachers (14,932 out of 61,000) had bothered to respond to the survey.  A bulletin on the SSTA’s own web site made clear that non respondents would be assumed to have no issues with the CfE’s implementation plans. (1)

SSTA Chairman Peter Wright subsequently voted to back the Scottish government’s proposals after being given assurances from the Education secretary.

The Union has responded to the suspension by accusing Mr Russell of bullying.  Mr Wright accused the Education secretary of ignoring concerns raised by SSTA and claimed that members were demanding industrial action.

In a leaked letter Mr Wright said:
“…, on every issue save one, those well-founded concerns have been rejected or ignored. Is it any wonder that our members have demanded that we take more direct action?”

Mr Wright insisted that he would try to attend the next board meeting and questioned the Scottish government’s commitment to CfE saying:

“I hope to have the opportunity to attend the October meeting of the Management Board. This will be the first opportunity to bring explicitly to the Management Board the concerns over which we propose to ballot our members.

“If I am not able to do so due to the cabinet secretary’s intervention, then members of the public, teachers and parents will draw their own conclusions about the Scottish Government’s commitment to implementing the Curriculum for Excellence.”

Notes
1) SSTA Website Bulletin 7th March this year:
The Association is conducting a survey to ascertain your views on CfE using fair and unbiased questions. Your school rep has been sent paper copies and an electronic copy can be completed online via the SSTA website. Please use one of these to enable the Association to represent your views to the Cabinet Secretary, and campaign for the best possible outcome for secondary teachers in Scotland. If you do not respond it will be assumed that you believe CfE can proceed in August 2010 without any additional information or reassurance.