Autumn 2001

ISSN 1473-219X





Politics and the Scottish Teacher: Policy and Industrial Relations

Graham Symon, University of Luton


Pay do you ask for? why, what do I know?
Juvenal, Satire VII

The opening of the first Scottish Parliament since 1707, in July 1999, highlighted in the eyes of the public the distinct nature of many areas of the system of public administration of Scotland. Of course, prior to devolution, although ultimately answerable to Westminster, much of Scotland’s public affairs had long been administered from Edinburgh, most distinctively the legal system and, the focus of this paper, the system of education. In the latter quarter of the twentieth century, education became a highly politicised issue. At an UK level, various political groups used education as a tool and a policy vehicle for the furtherance of their respective causes (Mc Vicar 1993; Ross 1986). This politicisation has had a number of consequences for teachers throughout the UK. Scottish teachers have, however, experienced the impact of policy, reform and change in ways that are particular to the economic, social, political, historical and cultural contexts of Scotland.

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This paper examines the experiences of the Scottish teaching profession in the last quarter of the twentieth century in the context of an initial brief historical summary. It charts the implications of the ideological agenda of the so-called New Right in the mid-1970s and the subsequent accession of the Thatcher Government with the policy that followed in the 1980s. The policies of the 1980s (principally fiscal restraint) led to considerable discontent and industrial action by teachers in the years 1984-87. The educational reform of the late 1980s and early 1990s such as the ‘marketisation’ and decentralisation of administration, but centralisation of the curriculum, were met with considerable resistance, as were efforts to introduce various initiatives characteristic of the private sector.

The local government reform that followed in 1994 is considered, which had significant implications, not least in the form of redundancies in the subsequent years before the election of the Labour Government of Tony Blair in May 1997. However, the political turmoil did not end there: a year later the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly for the creation of a devolved Scottish Parliament with tax-altering powers. On the accession of the coalition Labour/Liberal Democrat Executive in July 1999, which was welcomed by the teaching unions, education policy became the sole responsibility of the Executive. However, relations between the Government and the teachers have been far from harmonious so far.

The paper concludes with an overview of the prospects for teachers in Scotland under the devolved administration and considers the contribution that Scotland’s political environment has made to the experience of the teachers.

Historical summary

In order to appreciate fully the circumstances of the reform and change of education in recent decades it is necessary to first review the historical background. Education was clearly a priority for the Scottish people and with considerable efforts from the church, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, a relatively coherent and advanced system developed from the Middle Ages onwards quite independent of the influences of its neighbours, England.

There is evidence of substantive educational activity in Scotland as far back as 563AD at the time of the arrival of St Columba and the introduction of Christianity (Hunter, 1971). With the spread of Christianity came an increase in educational provision; most monasteries became centres of learning where the monks taught the scriptures and the ancient Celtic and Greek languages as well as poetry, astronomy and even practical subjects such as agriculture, trades and craft (Findlay 1973). The Church of Rome maintained the educational momentum throughout the Middle Ages and by the end of the fifteenth century, every major town in Scotland had a grammar school. These were controlled by the Burgh rather than the church, although the curriculum was still largely sacred and the teachers clergymen (Hunter, 1971).

The Protestant Reformation of the mid sixteenth century was a major milestone in the development of education in Scotland. Although the Church of Rome had made relatively large scale provision of education, Findlay explains how the Reformation marked a new era (Findlay, 1973: 9):

By 1560 ... a situation had come about, through the intermediaries of Elizabeth of England and the expulsion of French and Catholic influences from Scotland, in which it was possible for the new Protestant Church to set up a new system which included a strong and farsighted emphasis on education.

In 1560, the reformer John Knox and his colleagues drafted the Book of Discipline which provided a blueprint for what was considered to be 'the first truly modern education system in all Europe' (Mackintosh, 1962: 28). It is therefore interesting to note that although reform was facilitated by the authority of England, England did not have such an advanced plan of its own at that time. Although Knox’s plans never came fully to fruition, it is arguable that the plan’s distinguishing characteristics – its universality, its welfare element, its compulsory nature and the system of progressive grading – are evident in most systems that exist to this day.

In the following two centuries, despite the severe poverty of most of Scotland’s inhabitants and with the help of the Church of Scotland (the 'Kirk'), school provision continued to expand and literacy levels were frequently amongst the highest in Europe (Kerr, 1962). However, Scotland’s economic troubles meant that in 1707 it was necessary to dissolve the Edinburgh Parliament and abdicate all powers to London (Lynch, 1992). Education continued to develop separately from England and was becoming more and more secularised as time progressed and the curriculum and administration of education ‘at the sharp end’ became the responsibility of professional teachers who were paid a modest salary by the local authorities (Kerr 1962). By the time of the Enlightenment, Scottish education was widely admired internationally (Bullough and Bullough, 1971), perhaps prompting Voltaire to famously proclaim: 'We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation'.

The control of the Kirk was restated by the 1803 Education Act in attempt to establish a coherent framework for educational provision, but it was not until the far reaching Act of 1872 that this was achieved. Before then however, another momentous event had occurred: in 1847, the oldest teaching union in the world – the EIS (Educational Institute Scotland) – was formed (Belford 1947).

The Education (Scotland) Act 1872 saw the establishment of a system of compulsory and progressive education, initially administered by the London-based Scotch (sic) Education Department and then, in 1882, by the Scottish Education Department which was under the control of the newly formed Scottish Office in Edinburgh. The 1872 Act only applied to elementary education, but in 1892 County Secondary Education Committees were established and the Education (Scotland) Act 1908 consolidated their powers.

As education expanded and progressed into the twentieth century, the EIS and other smaller unions began to play a greater role in both the development of education and in influencing their members terms and conditions to the extent that in 1918, national salary scales for teachers came into operation (Belford, 1947). Local Government control of education was consolidated by an Act of 1929, which saw statutory Education Committees established. Nationwide central collective bargaining was introduced in 1939 with the formation of the National Joint Council and this was consolidated under the terms of the radical Education (Scotland) Act 1945 which was similar in essence to the 1944 ‘Butler’ Act in England and Wales (see Barber, 1994). Teachers’ pay scales were reviewed and introduced was an incremental ‘spinal’ scale – the ‘Teviot’ – that was considerably more generous than its English/Welsh counterpart, the ‘Burnham’ scales. Also put into operation were more thorough qualification and training arrangements that also went beyond those in England and Wales (Mackintosh, 1962). The 1945 Act represented a considerable milestone for teachers as it integrated teachers in to the ‘Post-war Consensus’ tripartite framework (Briault, 1976; McVicar, 1992; Kessler & Bayliss, 1998). Teachers were officially partners in the administration of education at what might be termed a ‘strategic’ level and the dynamics of this framework are discussed later in this paper.

For the subsequent two decades, education continued to feature in governmental policy agendas, most notably the moves away from the two tier 11-plus system to comprehensive schools, and a substantial rationalisation of schools in rural areas of Scotland where many small village schools were closed and the pupils transported to larger ones (Hunter, 1973). During this time there was a discernible shift in the nature of trade unionism in Scottish education. Whereas the original purpose of the unions was as much advancement of the cause of education as representing their members interests, there appears to have been a realisation that a shift towards bona fide trade unionism was inevitable and in 1972, the EIS which has always represented the vast majority of Scotland’s teachers became affiliated to the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). This was followed two years later with affiliation to the UK-wide TUC.

Militancy on the scale evident in other occupations such as mining and in the automotive industry has never been a characteristic of Scottish teachers. For several centuries the Scottish teacher has, with some justification, been regarded as being invested with an inherent nobility and dedication to his or her profession (Findlay 1977; Ross 1986). Relationships with the employers and the Government had been characterised by co-operation and a concern for the greater good. However, in the mid-1970s, the climate began to change as Education came to the forefront of the political agenda. It is to this phenomenon that the discussion now turns.Policy, Reform and Conflict in the Modern Era: The Great Debate and the Rise of the New Right

With the rise to prominence of Margaret Thatcher and the New Right in the 1970s came a new ideological agenda for education in the United Kingdom. In the 1970s it was alleged that the educational system throughout the UK was failing with falling standards and discipline. The Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan launched what was termed the ‘Great Debate’ on education and the position of the various political groups became clear (Johnson 1990). The critics in the centre and the left of the political system declared that the education system only served the needs of the dominant economic systems. The critics from the New Right believed the opposite; that the education system was not geared towards the economy enough (McVicar 1993). It was perceived that education had become too ‘child centred’ and based on personal development, rather than producing a skilled workforce to meet the needs of industry (Robinson 1996).

McVicar insists that the New Right did not have a clear, coherent policy agenda as regards education. They did, however, stand by their definition of a number of critical problems that they believed inherent in the British Education System (McVicar, 1993: 189) :

o the allegedly falling standards of basic literacy and numeracy
o the creation of a culture which was hostile to the private sector and wealth creation
o the abdication of responsibility by central government to the LEAs and the teaching unions
o inefficiency and wastage of pubic resources
o in some LEAs and some schools, a curriculum which had been strongly influenced by left-wing teachers
o dissatisfied parents whose ‘common sense’ views on their children’s’ education were denied a voice by the closed ranks of the service providers

The above points may have represented a rhetorical stance based on little ideological substance, but they were the populist manifestation of the neo-liberalist writings of economists such as Hayek and Butler. The agenda suggested by this model had severe implications for industrial relations in teaching. Perhaps most striking is the issue of the unions and local government having too much power; this comes from the heart of New Right ideology: anti-collectivism and its mistrust of public provision, especially at local government level (Elcock, 1993). According to Neo-liberal thinking, collectivism is not only seen as a hindrance to the operation of markets and efficiency, but hampers the freedom of the individual to make decisions (Hayek, 1944). The tripartite system of governing education which had been established by the 1944 Act in England and the 1945 Act in Scotland was seen to have created a corporatist and inflexible system of administration. The bureaucracy of the LEAs and the collective self-interest of the teaching unions were believed to be causing gross inefficiency, inflexibility and were apparently not responsive to the needs of the ‘consumers’ of their ‘product’.

It was to be some years after the Thatcher Administration was elected until much of the ideology was tenuously manifested in policy. The one area that Thatcher and her then Education Secretary Sir Keith Joseph concentrated on initially was that of the system functioning more ‘efficiently’ and spending being restrained. Keith Joseph was recognised as one of the principal personalities in the New Right movement and although he did not have direct responsibility for policy in Scotland, George Younger, the Secretary of State for Scotland, took on his philosophy.

The 1980s onwards: policy, reform and dispute

The 1980s proved to be a turbulent decade for education in Scotland and indeed the rest of the UK. One of the election pledges of Margaret Thatcher had been to honour the findings of the Commission on Public Sector Pay chaired by Professor Hugh Clegg (The Clegg Commission) that had been set up by the previous Labour Government in 1979. The Commission reported in April of 1980 and recommended pay rises of between 17% and 25% for teachers in the UK. Thatcher reluctantly conceded but was determined not to allow such ‘extravagance’ to occur in the following years (Ross, 1986).

One other significant development in industrial relations terms was the establishment of a new Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee (SJNC) in 1982. This differed from the National Joint Council, which had been established in 1945 (ACAS, 1980) and revised in 1974 due to local government reorganisation, in that as well as including the two larger teaching unions on the negotiating platform (the EIS and the SSTA), it introduced two further minority unions: the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) and the Scottish Division of the NAS/UWT. The collective bargaining forum as it now appears is represented in Figure 1.

Most of the interface occurs between COSLA and the Unions; traditionally, the Government (previously the Scottish Office and now the Scottish Executive) had been represented by two civil servants (assessors) who '[tended] not to speak very much' (Ross, 1986: 151). However, it can be assumed that at critical stages in the dialogue, the Government representatives and possibly even the Scottish Minister for Education, intervened if dispute arose or Government policies (most often public sector pay guidelines (Humes, 1986)) were being compromised. At several points in the 1980s and 1990s, Government did try to impose itself on the negotiating process and the results are detailed below.

Following the implementation of the Clegg recommendations, Scottish teachers’ pay was subsequently eroded in real terms over the preceding four years. Morale in teaching diminished considerably as the Conservative fiscal policy took effect. Resources were cut back and the teachers felt their workload growing (Ross, 1986). In 1984 the teaching unions in Scotland began a sustained campaign of industrial action. The principal unions in Scotland – the EIS and the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) did not have a history of militancy but felt sufficiently antagonised by the Government’s hostility to take action in the form of a prolonged series of one day strikes and proscribing extra-curricular supervision. As Ross (1986), in his emotive but largely accurate account notes, the teachers appreciated that their actions would be a detriment to the welfare of their pupils but felt that ultimately, if successful, they would serve the interests of the pupils. This view was appreciated by parents and as the industrial action proceeded, the teachers gained the support of the majority of parents and the Scottish press (Ross, 1986).

The action of the Scottish teachers was initiated at the conclusion of the high profile miners’ strike of 1984/85 where the NUM had been defeated by the determination of the Thatcher Government not to concede to the Union’s demands. However the Scottish teachers, unlike the miners, were ultimately successful although it took until 1987 to reach a satisfactory settlement. Throughout the dispute, the employers side at the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee (SJNC), the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) had shown a willingness to compromise with the Unions but had been constrained by the insistence of the Scottish Office that central government would not be prepared to help fund any rise which was over their own public sector pay recommendations (Ross, 1986).

The Scottish dispute was to a great extent mirrored in England and Wales where teachers also took part in a period of industrial action. However, the events in England led to quite a different outcome. In 1986 Kenneth Baker, then the Education Secretary, introduced the Teachers Pay and Conditions Act (1986) which removed the rights of the teaching unions in England and Wales to negotiate for pay, their pay being determined by a Government appointed Pay Review Body. The Scottish unions maintained their collective bargaining rights in full, although there were certain strings attached with regard to curriculum reform and other workload issues (Johnstone, 1993).

The issue of power was one that the Conservatives were to address with subsequent legislation and policy. As previously mentioned, the New Right believed the unions and the Local Education Authorities (LEAs) were too powerful; they therefore sought to redress that balance back in favour of central government. The issue of ‘power’ in this instance is essentially one of ‘who governs’ and who exerts most influence in setting the policy and administrative agenda (Dahl 1961; Lukes 1976). Under the terms of the Education (Scotland) Act 1945 it was intended that education in Scotland should be administered by a partnership of central government, local government and the teaching profession. The three parties under this mechanism were expected to interface in a triangular model – see Figure 2 (Briault, 1976). It would be misleading to suggest, however, that this triangle has at any time been ‘equilateral’, with the balance of power undergoing frequent shifts (Humes, 1986).

Although the Conservatives had in opposition mooted radical ideas for education such as privatisation and a voucher system, it was not until almost ten years into their administration that they undertook anything that could be perceived as radical (Rao, 1990). Firstly, Baker introduced the Education Reform Act 1988 which was followed a year later by a similar Act for Scotland. The principal objective of this series of legislation was to address the ‘power’ issue, seeking to remove influence from the teachers and local government. Indeed another partner was brought into the equation. During the course of the 1980s the Thatcher administration introduced two especially controversial concepts to public administration: the market and consumerism.
As with many other areas of the public sector, the Conservative Government looked to the private sector for models of management and approaches to employee relations (Fredman & Morris, 1989; Beaumont, 1992; Flynn, 1993). In Scottish Education, this meant attempts to introduce quasi-Human Resource Management (HRM) techniques such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and Staff Development and Appraisal (SOED 1989), which were resisted by the Unions (Johnstone, 1993).

This ‘marketisation’ put parental choice on the educational agenda, giving them more freedom to choose the school they wished their child to attend. This had several implications, most notably that it theoretically brought the parents into the decision making process – see Figure 3. Also, schools were potentially transformed into quasi business units.

Thus, the functional hierarchy of the parties in the system of educational administration would be:

o Central Government which formulates policy and oversees and assesses operations
o Local Government which implements and interprets policy and administers operations
o The Teaching Profession which undertakes operations, as well as attempting to influence policy


o The Parents who, with ‘common-sense’ views and rational self-interest can influence the ‘invisible hand’ of the ‘market’, thus forcing schools to be efficient and to raise standards as they compete for custom. This placed parents in a considerable position of influence, primarily in economic terms (as funding is allocated to schools approximately in accordance with pupil numbers) and by implication, in terms of curriculum, and employment practices

The concept of the school as a business unit was enhanced further by the introduction of Local Management of Schools (LMS), firstly in England and Wales, where schools were given the option of applying to ‘opt-out’ of LEA control and receive funding direct from the Department of Education. This effectively took local government out of the Briault equation and decentralised educational administration (Johnson, 1991). The rhetoric suggested that this would allow schools to be more efficient, responsive and flexible and allow head teachers to spend money in accordance with local exigencies (Downes, 1988). Approximately 1000 schools were to opt-out in England, but when the policy was introduced to Scotland, only two very small schools chose to go for grant-maintained status. Following the lack of enthusiasm for opting out, Central Government in Scotland then implemented a policy of Devolved School Management (DSM) (SOED, 1993) whereby each school, although remaining under LEA control was given greater power over its budget.

Scotland Street School, Glasgow

Since 1974, Education in Scotland had been administered by nine large regional and island authorities. The Conservatives complained that they were bureaucratic and inflexible (Keating & Midwinter, 1993) and under the terms of the Local Government, etc Reform Act (1994) sought to divide these 'monstrosities', as Prime Minister John Major termed them, into smaller units. The Act was potentially one of the most radical pieces of legislation to affect Scottish Education and its employment practices for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Act made no provision for collective bargaining, either at national or local government level, as every such Act since 1945 had. Secondly, the Act made no provision for local authorities to have a Director of Education nor an education Committee on the Council, as had been the case since 1929 (see above). This was clear evidence of the intention of the Conservative Government to decentralise industrial relations thus further weakening the position of the unions and local government.

The scenario that the schools and the teachers potentially faced was school-level bargaining which, due to the small nature of a school’s unit of resource would be rather problematical, as well as the many other problems caused by highly decentralised collective bargaining (see Fatchett, 1989). However, when the Act came into force in 1996, the parties pragmatically defied the policy agenda and maintained COSLA and the SJNC, and all of Scotland’s 29 new local authorities appointed a Director of Education and formed an Education Committee. This consensus did not mean an end to the teachers’ concerns as reorganisation had led to a significant shortfall in budgets and led to redundancies and spending cuts (EIS, 1996). Coupled with the ongoing issues of workload and stress, there was a considerable degree of discontent in industrial relations terms as the 1997 General Election approached.

The Scottish Parliament and Scottish teachers

According to the work of Surridge and McCrone (1999), the victory of the 'Yes/Yes' campaign and the subsequent devolution of Scotland was not so much an expression of 'Scottishness', Nationalism or Anti-Englishness, but a genuine pragmatic move to improve public services in Scotland, including education. Again, this perhaps illustrates the importance placed on education by the people of Scotland. However, considering education as being important and benevolence to the teaching profession are not necessarily automatically connected. The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has often blamed the 'forces of conservatism' among teachers for the plight of UK education. However, the establishment of the Scottish Parliament appears to have been welcomed with some enthusiasm by both local government and the teaching unions with the EIS in particular expressing approval (EIS, 1999). As the administration of education in Scotland has since 1882 effectively been ‘devolved’, it is unlikely that the landscape of industrial relations will be radically altered in the short term; the actual channels of administration and theatres of collective bargaining are likely to remain intact for the term of the current Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition.By the late nineties, the Scottish Education Minister Sam Galbraith had spoken publicly of his intention to abolish the SJNC in the light of a recent pay dispute with the teaching unions. The unions, however, had managed to block the Minister’s move, at least for the time being, by successfully lobbying for the establishment of a Committee of Enquiry, the ‘McCrone Committee’ (EIS, 1999a). This move perhaps illustrates some of the benefits of the seat of democratic decision making nearer to the base of administration. The Scottish teaching unions appear to have been able to directly influence the political system than they would have under the previous model (Brown, 1999). It has been suggested that this could also be a result of the dynamics of the new Scottish system, which allows pressure groups more access, and consultation to the members and various committees. These members are in turn constantly aware of the potentially fragile nature of the Proportional Representation (PR) System and the delicate balance of power under the coalition (Brown, 1999).

In theory, when formulating policy, the Edinburgh Government with its First Minister and Executive including the Scottish Minister for Education and their Scottish Junior Ministers, should be able to operate and formulate policy with lessened influence from the Westminster Government and Parliament. For example since 2001, when the ‘Barnett’ formula of public expenditure was reviewed, the Edinburgh Government is not necessarily obliged to adhere as closely to Westminster and may set public sector pay guidelines and will have more freedom when addressing other administrative and structural issues which could impact on industrial relations. Indeed, commentators have recently suggested that not only has Westminster’s power been lessened, but that it will, through incremental progression rather than radical departures, increasingly have less and less influence. Policy north and south of the border, in terms of education and indeed the rest of the fiscal sphere, shall diverge to the extent that independence could be a logical progression (Brown et al, 1998). Indeed this is suggested by these commentators to be an extension of the pragmatic agenda of the Scottish public towards public services identified by Surridge and McCrone (1999), with education at the forefront of their considerations.

Increased financial independence from Westminster may force central and local government in Scotland to address profound financial realities. The tax varying powers granted to the Scottish Parliament potentially give it significantly greater influence in industrial relations matters: as can be seen from a historical perspective, fiscal related matters (affecting pay, conditions and resources) have perhaps been the most prominent in industrial relations (in the post-war period at least). Hypothetically, a situation could arise where the pay of Scottish teachers could fall out of synchronisation with that of teachers in the rest of the UK. As discussed above, in 1945 when National pay scales were consolidated, the Scottish ‘Teviot’ scale was considerably more generous than its English and Welsh counterpart the ‘Burnham’ scale, although rates of pay have been brought into line over subsequent years. However, a situation has now arisen where, depending on economic factors and exigencies, pay settlements could be considerably different – which could have considerable political and labour market consequences.


Although industrial relations ‘proper’ did not manifest in Scottish education until well after the Industrial Revolution had made its impact on many other trades and crafts, certain threads run through the employment relationship of the teacher if it is viewed in historical perspective. The first teachers were monks who taught out of a sense of religious duty. They were succeeded by secular teachers who retained a strict sense of religious and moral conviction. Post-reformation, the Calvinist disciples of John Knox were keen to educate to ‘democratise’ and (in their eyes) free Scotland of Roman Catholic dogma. In subsequent centuries, the teacher became a respected member of the community (although by no means among the most affluent) and the importance of education grew into the nineteenth century with the Industrial Revolution. The founding principles of the EIS were as much borne out of a sense of social improvement as with a collective effort to affect terms and conditions of employment (Belford, 1947), which is generally recognised as the purpose of trade unionism (Flanders, 1970). Into the twentieth century, the teacher was found to be collaborating with the Government in developing an effective system of universal education and the profession was again involved in 1945 with a prominent role in post-war reconstruction.

In 1984, Scottish teachers were moved to industrial action – which was not a decision which was taken lightly (Ross, 1986). The Conservatives attempted to defeat the teachers as they had done the miners (although not by such controversial and violent means). However, the teachers had resolved to disrupt the education of their charges as little as possible.

Even to this day, despite the evolution and reform of education, the sense of professionalism and duty among Scottish teachers appears to remain strong (EIS, 1999). The unions espouse a firm commitment to the furtherance of education and oppose policy and reform that they believe will be detrimental to the education of their pupils. However, industrial relations in Scottish education has its functional side which has been as susceptible to the post 1979 ‘new industrial relations’ as many of its other public and private sector counterpart occupations.

The latest major piece of reform to impact on the education sector is the devolution of Scotland. The shape of future developments is not an obvious one. Union density in Scottish education remains relatively strong, despite a drastic decline in membership levels in most other sectors since 1979. If, as expected, the seat of policy-making power becomes firmly established in Edinburgh and distanced from Westminster, it is possible that the unions, principally the EIS, will continue to exert a significant influence in the sphere of education policy in general as well as in the more specific arena of industrial relations. This state of affairs will be enhanced by the expectation that the bargaining agenda will be an almost exclusively Scottish one, with devolution having severed some of the Westminster purse strings. Ultimately, public opinion in Scotland has historically favoured the role that education and teachers have to play in society and this should perhaps be at the forefront of the considerations of the authorities when formulating their future agendas.


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