Calls for better teacher pay in Scotland were backed by politicians during a wide-ranging hustings ahead of next week’s local elections.
Representatives from the five main political parties north of the border put their case as to why members of the Educational Institute of Scotland should put their party first on May 5 during a two-hour question and answer session.
The EIS is fighting for a 10% pay rise for 2022/23, and Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Michael Marra backed the union in its demands.
“We’re absolutely clear in Scottish Labour that there should be more than a real terms rise in teachers’ pay,” the MSP told the online audience, and added that offers seen in recent years were “essentially real terms cuts”.
“It’s right that the union has come in with a substantial claim and actually negotiating robustly to make sure that they can meet the needs of teachers.”
Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ education spokesman, also backed calls for a rise to “reflect the increasing cost of living”.
“But there also needs to be recognition that if we don’t give a decent pay rise then we will start to see some serious recruitment shortages, and when that starts it’s quite difficult to reverse,” he said.
Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell, the party’s education spokesman, said there “hasn’t been the kind of money and support you would expect off the back of the pandemic”.
“If the cabinet secretary can find the money to make this affordable, I won’t be saying no. I think teachers are underpaid,” he said.
“I think there should be the possibility of additional payments for teachers who work outside of their contractual hours who are already offering our young people far more than they have to,” he said.
Jon Molyneux, representing the Scottish Green Party, said his party would “push for a package, both workload and pay, that will improve the conditions for teachers going forward”.
SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, told union members to not only listen to the position of panellists but “also (to) what they put forward to Scottish Government budgets to actually ensure that they’re actually wanting this in reality”.
She said the Scottish Government had a “strong record on supporting teachers” but told teachers it had seen a “real terms cut” to its budget.
“That is the reality the Scottish Government has to undertake on these negotiations,” she said.
“We’re certainly determined to play our part, we take that very seriously, and make sure that we’re working with Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) and with our trade union colleagues, on an expeditious result that I hope teachers will see as fair.”
Classroom ventilation was also raised in the wide-ranging session, and Ms Somerville told teachers that expert advice had said air filters had a role to play but “should not be used as a substitute to improve ventilation”.
She said additional funding had been provided to local authorities to make sure that was no issue.
Mr Mundell said the experts were the teachers in classrooms and if things like air filters made staff feel safer he “didn’t feel we should be as quick to push it away”.
Mr Rennie criticised the “stupid idea of chopping the bottom off the doors” and said the “SNP have been constantly reacting to this agenda and that’s why the confidence of teachers is pretty low on this front”.
And Mr Marra said that “Covid management in this country is one of the worst in the world”.
The Labour MSP said a recent study found mechanical ventilation in classrooms drastically cut infection rates and without “substantial investment” that air-cleaning technology “is likely to be a good choice”.
Mr Molyneux said the Greens had constantly raised the issue of safety in schools and had secured an extra £5 million to help with ventilation in classrooms, money which he said was originally destined for the business ventilation fund.
“Green councillors will push as hard as we can for our schools to maximise every penny,” he said.
During the two-hour hustings event EIS members also put questions to the politicians about long Covid, head teachers running more than one school, and tackling the poverty attainment gap which the union heard was a greater challenge for ethnic minorities in Scotland.