Sunday, October 25, 2020
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Truculent teachers lead Nicola by the nose

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ONE of the topics trending on Twitter last Thursday morning was #ThankYouNicola. This nauseous hashtag was prompted not by Ms Sturgeon having done anything in particular; her unctuous acolytes simply wished to celebrate Nicola’s existence, one example – which is more than enough – being:

Sturgeon’s claque felt the need to reassert her righteousness during a week in which more people cottoned on to the Scottish Government’s culpability in having transferred infected patients from hospitals into care homes. National Records of Scotland reported that for the fourth consecutive week a majority of Scotland’s Covid-19 deaths occurred in care homes; institutions which should have been hermetically protected now account for an extraordinary 46 per cent of all Covid-19 fatalities in Scotland. 

Also during the past week, BBC journalist Sarah Smith (daughter of former Labour leader John Smith) said on air that Nicola Sturgeon had ‘enjoyed the opportunity to set her own lockdown rules’. The Nationalist mob seized upon the ambiguity in Smith’s phraseology and quickly called her to heel. Though she accepted ‘Sarah’s clarification’, nippy Nicola harrumphed: ‘Never have I “enjoyed” anything less.’

How dare there be even the slightest hint that an ideological Scottish Nationalist derives satisfaction when diverging from Westminster and dividing the UK? Several hours after #ThankYouNicola had appeared, the First Minister presented ‘Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis’ – a framework broadly similar to the outline already announced by Boris Johnson but this one will be enacted a few weeks later and more importantly is Made in Scotland.

Where Sturgeon’s schedule differs from Johnson’s blueprint, it manages to be even more timid and tentative. In particular, no attempt is being made to have Scottish schoolchildren back in class before the end of this academic year: the earliest that Scotland’s schools will restart is August 11. Worse still, all pupils will return to a ‘blended model of part-time in-school teaching and part-time in-home learning’, during which pupils will of course be subjected to ‘safeguarding protocols such as appropriate [and unscientific] physical distancing’. 

If you assume this benignly titled ‘blended model’ will be only a short-term measure, think again. What happens in Scotland’s state schools is in reality determined not by elected politicians but by the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), the trade union to which most of Scotland’s teachers belong.

For the past half-century Scotland’s largest teachers’ union has devoted itself, not to educational excellence, but to maintaining mediocrity in state schools, where nothing of import takes place without EIS approval. When general secretary Larry Flanagan pledges to ‘work constructively in the interests of children’, he is actually promising to ‘fight for what is best for my members’.

Larry Flanagan sits on Scotland’s Covid-19 Education Recovery Group, chaired by Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Although Flanagan is only one of 20 ‘decision makers and key influencers’ on the panel, the EIS is all-powerful. We must therefore take notice when the general secretary of the dominant EIS states that the ‘blended model’, in which pupils are only part-time at school, must become the new (ab)normal: ‘It is not a short-term plan, it is something that needs to be sustained. We are quite clear it will have to continue until as a society we have managed to control the virus, until there is a vaccine that is the only way we would have complete control.’ 

Until there is a vaccine! Unfortunately, he is dead serious. And no sooner had Nicola Sturgeon announced the return date of August 11 than, predictably, the general secretary of the EIS expressed doubt regarding the resumption of classroom teaching: ‘The time is very short and I don’t think everything will be ready for August.’ 

In the meantime, while the EIS leaves the Scottish Government to ‘control the virus’, expect the union to exercise its own ‘complete control’ by prioritising disproportionate safetyism over children’s education and for truculent teachers to be indulged by Scotland’s First Minister.

During her presentation of the route map, Nicola Sturgeon told ‘children and young people’ that they ‘have been magnificent during this lockdown period’; ‘from the bottom of my heart’, she thanked ‘every single one of you’. If she proceeds to ruin their education, Sturgeon should not expect them to return the compliment.

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Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver
Gary Oliver is an accountant who lives in East Lothian.

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