THE crippling effect that poverty has on pupils was highlighted by teachers in Scotland yesterday.
Incoming EIS president Nicola Fisher warned: “Poverty damages the physical and mental health of children, affects their life chances and life expectancy,” as she moved a motion calling on the union to highlight the effect of poverty on pupils and the barriers poor families face in meeting the costs associated with school.
“There are children who have gone to school today hungry, in ill-fitting clothes, worried they will be mocked by their peers,” she said, revealing that local authority school uniform grants for poor families vary widely across Scotland, with some allowing as little as £20 per pupil.
Ms Fisher asked: “Why is it we can afford weapons of war that kill children on the other side of the world and yet we can’t ensure children in this country are kept well fed and warm in this country?”
Delegates also highlighted the effects of staff shortages and cuts to schools, while reasserting the union’s right to collectively bargain for its members.
Calling for action on the falling number of additional support needs teachers, delegate Joanne Thomson warned that, at her school, “half of our language and communication staff have gone, retiring support teachers have not been replaced, we don’t have maternity cover and staff are giving up their lunch breaks to support students.”
Noting that the rising number of students with complex needs who need properly resourced support, she accused the Scottish government of “mainstreaming education on the cheap.”
On trade union rights, delegates voted to strongly oppose — with industrial action if necessary — any attempt by the Scottish government to undermine the union’s ability to collectively bargain across the sector.
Fife delegate Murray Swan warned that “the SNP are in no way progressive in supporting unions” and called on delegates to “stand firm” against the SNP and Tory governments’ attacks on education.
Former EIS president Helen Connor said: “If [Education Secretary] John Swinney attempts to remove our ability to collectively bargain, then we will go on strike and we are absolutely clear on that.
“We must ensure that teachers across Scotland are not bullied into giving up conditions of service.
“We will not go down the same route as England, where schools bargain locally leading to wide-ranging pay differentiation.”