The EI General Secretary, Fred Van Leeuwen, has been conferred with an Honorary Fellowship by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) at its Annual General Meeting. The EIS was granted the right to award Fellowships under a Charter given to the union by Britain’s Queen Victoria in the 19th Century. It is the only EI member with this capacity.
Van Leeuwen was given the award on 9 June in Perth, Scotland, in recognition of his long service to international trade unionism and his contribution to the attainment of education for all.
In the citation, Van Leeuwen’s work to develop EI into the most prominent organisation representing educators around the world, and his promotion of EI initiatives such as the EFAIDS project and the building of schools in post-tsunami Banda Aceh and Sri Lanka, was praised.
In his response to the award, Van Leeuwen acknowledged the historical significance of the EIS’s authority to award degrees and said that it was a reminder of the important role which teachers’ unions play in shaping the profession, and in setting and maintaining educational standards.
Van Leeuwen expressed concern about the extent to which the teaching profession was being de-professionalised and cited the influx of unqualified teachers; the restrictions on teachers’ autonomy; the casualisation of the profession; the introduction of performance related pay; the increased emphasis on teacher evaluation; the increasing gap between teachers’ remuneration and that of other professional groups, and the rapid spread of standardised testing.
He said that this was creating a perception that education was too important to leave to the judgement and professionalism of teachers, and called for teachers to regain control over their profession, and that education unions reinforce their role as the profession’s guardians.
Van Leeuwen also emphasised the importance of teachers and education unions sticking together. The financial crisis had created an imperative for unions to work together to protect public services and especially education services. It was important that unions were part of the solution to the crisis and not a part of the problem.
Education unions must persuade governments that investment in people through education and training was the key to economic recovery. It was important at this time that unions work together to disseminate this message and not engage in opportunistic raids on one another’s membership.
Van Leeuwen concluded by stating that: “the union movement and, especially, the education union movement, through united action, could help elected political representatives make the right decisions. Working together trade unionists could pursue their ideals and achieve a better future for all.”