Some 30,000 marchers have taken to the streets of Glasgow to support teachers campaigning for a 10% pay rise, organisers have said.
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, organised the event, with general secretary Larry Flanagan hailing the turnout at the demo as “absolutely magnificent”.
Teachers, parents and their children and other campaigners marched from Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park to George Square, where union leaders and politicians addressed crowds.
So large was the rally that reports suggested when the first marchers arrived there, others were still waiting to set off.
The EIS has been calling for teachers to be given a 10% rise to restore the value of salaries following public sector pay caps.
A pay offer which would have seen all teachers get a rise of 3% was rejected last month and was described as “divisive”, with issues raised over the parity of pay.
Education secretary John Swinney argued the deal would result in all teachers on the main grade scale receiving at least a 5% increase, with some teachers receiving up to 11% in one year in conjunction with annual progression.
Speaking at the rally in George Square, Mr Flanagan said: “It is absolutely magnificent to look out on this massive demonstration and know that we are here, united, because we believe that the future of Scottish education is worth standing up and fighting for.
“Our pay claim is for 10% – given that the value of take-home pay has dropped by 24% in the last decade, that claim is already a compromise on what we deserve. And here is the simple fact – if you want to have qualified teachers in front of pupils in our schools, you need to address the recruitment and retention crisis we are facing.”
EIS president Alison Thornton added: “The salaries of teachers in schools in Scotland are below the European average and those of other countries in the wider world.
“Our pupil contact hours are high, and we still work an average of 11 hours of unpaid overtime each week to deal with the demands of the job.
“Austerity doesn’t work, quality public services need proper funding and by investing in teachers then there is investment in education and our young people and their futures.”
Local government body Cosla said it took a joint decision with the Scottish Government to write to teachers “spelling out the value and merits of the pay offer currently on the table”.
The EIS will open a ballot of its members on Tuesday calling on them to reject the current offer. The ballot closes on November 20.
Mr Swinney said: “I hugely value the work teachers do and the vital contribution they make to improve outcomes for children.
“We want teaching to be a rewarding career choice – to keep people in the profession and to attract new entrants – and that is why the Scottish Government is contributing an additional £35 million this year for teachers’ pay.
“Through a combination of a 3% increase for all staff earning up to £80,000, restructuring the main grade scale and annual progression, the majority of teachers receive a rise between 5% and 11%. There would be a flat rate increase of £1,600 for those earning more than £80,000 from 1 April 2018.”
The Education Secretary added that reference to conditions of service forming part of the negotiations “is factually incorrect”.
He said: “Our offer to teachers is for one year, and compares favourably with the pay award for the majority of health workers of 9% over three years and the recently announced award 6.5% increase for police officers covering 31 months.
“I firmly believe this is a generous and fair offer which demonstrates the value both the Scottish Government and local government place on the teaching profession.
“We remain committed to continuing discussions with teaching unions in good faith.”
But Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who addressed the rally, said it showed “Scotland’s teachers won’t be bullied into accepting another real terms pay cut by the SNP”.
He said: “It’s time for Mr Swinney to put a fair pay deal on the table to provide teachers with the respect and due recognition they deserve.”
Meanwhile Scottish Green education spokesman Ross Greer hailed the demonstration as being the “largest single-union march in modern history”.
He added: “Scotland’s teachers have shown that they are ready to fight to win back some of the 20% their pay value has lost over the last decade.
“John Swinney should stop the threats to undermine unions, ditch his deeply unwanted governance reforms and address the real issues in our schools, namely a much-reduced, demoralised and overwhelmed teaching and support workforce trying to deliver the impossible with not nearly enough resources.”