Today's newspaper reports suggest that some teachers in Scotland - may actually be living on a different planet to the rest of us.
As Glasgow prepares to host the annual conference of the NASUWT this weekend - the Scotsman reports that the union is calling for teacher workloads to be reduced - because their jobs are so stressful.
The NASUWT says that without more support - there will be increasing stress, mental health issues and absenteeism.
NASUWT general secretary - Chris Keates - is quoted as saying "Teachers' pay and conditions are being singled out in a deliberate, calculated and vicious way to balance the books of the Scottish Government."
How's that for hyperbole?
Here's something I wrote about the McCrone Agreement several years ago - the reality is that teachers are much better off than most other Scottish council workers - none of whom enjoy the luxury of a 39-week working year.
"Windy Rhetoric and McCrone"
"Union leaders are turning into such delicate creatures these days. Never slow to offer free advice to everybody else on the planet on how to run their affairs, they are becoming incredibly sensitive even to mild criticism. Take the biggest teaching union, the EIS, whose leader, Ronnie Smith, railed at critics of the McCrone Agreement recently at his union's annual conference.
Normally mild mannered, Ronnie must have had three Weetabix for breakfast that morning, since he weighed into what he called the ‘enemies’ of the McCrone agreement, the ‘wreckers’ who have accused teachers (collectively) of giving little in return, so far at least, for a mammoth 23.5% pay rise over 3 years.
Professor Gavin McCrone, eponymous architect of the new deal for Scottish schools, came in for special treatment being scolded severely and awarded the dunce’s hat for saying uncomplimentary things about the implementation of his now famous agreement.
To recap, a key feature of McCrone is a guaranteed working week of 35 hours from 1 August 2001 addressing the long hours culture teachers have complained of for years; poorly quantified, unregulated work such as marking and lesson preparation, often done after normal school hours.
So, from last August Scottish teachers have a new 35-hour week, yet will still be contracted to deliver a service for only 39 weeks of the year. A good deal for teachers’ obviously, whether it’s fair and represents wider value for public money is another question entirely.
Union bosses may not like people standing up for the public interest, or asking why teachers deserve such special treatment, but as any good teacher knows an inquisitive minds should be encouraged. Accusing Professor Gavin McCrone of not knowing what he’s talking about and resorting to ad hominem attacks is a poor example to set school students.
The bottom line is that 39 weeks x 35 hours equals a working year of 1365 hours within which teachers are being guaranteed blocks of time for classroom teaching, lesson preparation and marking. So, having addressed the biggest concern of teachers by effectively eliminating after hours work, the unions still want their members to be guaranteed a working year of 39 weeks.
The jury is still out on whether teachers try to have it both ways, but the McCrone reforms are about a better education service and better outcomes for children and parents by changing the culture in schools. Restoring professionalism means the deal has to cut both ways if the public interest is to be served; rewarding staff well is important but only part of the equation.
The point lost on the teaching unions is that no one is really bothered about the fine detail of complex negotiations. What they can see is the big picture and what difference £800 million of public money is making in local schools.
McCrone was sold as a fresh start for Scottish education and a move away from old attitudes. A better education system ought to mean more teaching, more effective teaching, new ideas, innovations, different ways of doing things and looking at issues from other perspectives, especially parents and young people.
No other council workers received anything like the teachers, which begs the obvious question: exactly what was the inflation plus element designed to achieve?
Maybe, new McCrone based initiatives will come to the fore in the weeks ahead to inform public debate. McCrone was intended to strengthen the management role of head teachers and provide stronger local leadership. It was also intended to have teachers working more flexibly.
Why not have progress reports from each school on the benefits of McCrone and an indication of how the big issues will be tackled? Incorporating parents’ evenings into a 1365-hour 39-week working year look and sound like a Spanish practice to anyone with an ounce work experience and common sense, unless there is a quid pro quo.
The Scottish Executive has committed £200 million towards free care for the elderly from July 2002, much less than the cost of implementing the McCrone agreement. But ministers will at least be able to point to the benefits of the new service and the improvements in care for older people. So far, that’s a lot more than can be said for the difference that McCrone will make in Scotland’s schools.
Thin-skinned teaching unions may dislike awkward questions, but modern public services should be able to explain what they are doing with the extra cash instead of hiding behind gobbledegook about McCrone milestones.
Unless teachers’ leaders can demonstrate that in return for this pay rise members’ are putting something in, there is a real danger that public opinion will sour against a profession which already claims its standing in society has fallen."