there is no doubt that the Glasgow teachers’ strike on May 8 had a profound effect upon all teachers, North and South of the border. Strike is a dirty word to some teachers, an unattainable demonstration of militancy to many more. But the Glasgow teachers have shown that the strike is now a realistic weapon in the struggle to maintain and advance educational standards. In a section of the community preoccupied with demands for “professional” recognition, the strike has produced a feeling of self-respect and confidence.
The Glasgow teachers’ immediate demands were: an acceptable salary scale; the withdrawal of the government’s dilution proposals. But many of the strike’s causes are part of a more general background. Scotland has had intense pride in her educational traditions for centuries, but in recent years she had had to watch with growing exasperation the erosion of her educational standards by Government neglect and even by direct attack.
This year, for example, Lanarkshire, the second biggest educational area in Scotland, faced a cut of £10 million in her school-building programme over the next five years. This was due, technically, to the operation of the block grant in capital allocation to local authorities, a system teachers had fought desperately but vainly. Now hundreds of building projects, from complete new buildings to extensive re-modelling, are threatened. Page after page of the County Council minutes on the building position lists various categories: “Cases where provision is impossible
From the needed Government grant of £16½ million towards this rebuilding and modernising programme (this from a programme in which every single item had already been approved as educationally necessary by the Education Department itself) the Exchequer has lopped off £10 million. Brooman-White, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, excused the cuts as due to insufficient technical resources. In a country where unnecessary but profitable petrol service stations spread like toadstools, only one new Senior Secondary School has been built since the war! Private affluence and public squalor at its meanest.
So there was anger over the physical conditions of our schools. There was anger too at the staffing situation. About 2,000 uncertificated persons were being employed in Scotland in a desperate attempt to conceal the shortage. Of these, nearly 700 were admitted by the Department itself to be seriously below any acceptable educational standards. In Calderhead Junior Secondary School in Lanarkshire, nearly half of the total teaching staff were uncertificated. In two of the four schools chosen to implement the still experimental “O” Level Certificate, 36 out of a total teaching staff of 126 were uncertificated.
Now there is only one solution when you are short of educational facilities . . . staff or buildings. Spend more money. The Government refused. But not enough people with the right qualifications were coming forward (no wonder! Teaching salaries were compared to salaries in private industry and commerce by intelligent students). What half-measure would offer the illusion of full-staffing?
The Government found a solution. Lower the qualifications. When you dredge low enough, if you can’t get the mackerel at least you’ll get the sprats. Now, the distinctive mark of Scottish education has always been the high qualifications of teachers. Forty-seven per cent of Scottish teachers are university graduates compared to 18 in England. No male teacher can enter the profession to teach either academic subjects in a Secondary school or general subjects in a primary school unless he possess a University degree. This had been true for the last 40 years; the next stage was to make graduation necessary for women. But this step has not been taken. The Government now propose to turn the clock back40 years. They produced their now infamous memorandum on the training of teachers, heavily marked “not to be communicated to the press”. This blatant piece of coat-trailing proposed, as a “suggestion”, that male non-graduates should now be recruited. The Government peddled the argument “equality for men”—as if equal pay should come about by lowering male wages. The teachers quickly rejected this equality in squalor. Years of ineffectual negotiating on salaries, pension rights, school conditions; a growing frustration at lack of power in determining educational policy, in determining conditions of entry; growing resentment at deteriorating school conditions; all this developed a mood of anger and undirected militancy throughout Scotland. A real grass roots movement simultaneously broke out in various schools. From St. Augustine’s, a Roman Catholic Senior Secondary School in Glasgow, came the clearest statement of the teachers’ case and a call for strike if the main demands were not immediately met. Then the Glasgow Committee of the E.I.S., the main teachers’ organisation, acted. They gave the Secretary of State until May 1 to produce adequate salary scales and withdraw the memorandum on dilution or else face a week’s strike in Glasgow. A mass meeting of teachers enthusiastically endorsed their attitude. The Government was unequivocally challenged. The strike was engaged.