Ministers and the media frequently refer to the "McCrone settlement", but for advisers the debate is far from settled. As part of the McCrone agreement, it was decided that the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) would, by the end of June last year, make recommendations on the salaries and conditions of service of advisers (as well as psychologists and music instructors).
The first meeting of the subgroup set up to carry out the review did not take place until the end of August. Over an unnecessarily protracted period of seven months the management side spoke of changes to conditions but offered little prospect of an improvement to an interim pay offer of 3 per cent from 2001. As this did not even approach what was given to teachers, it was rejected out of hand.
An offer of 7 per cent backdated to 2001, with a further 4 per cent for each of 2002 and 2003, was intimated at the SNCT meeting last Thursday. Despite the improvement, it does not address the many concerns raised by advisers, including issues of retention and recruitment. Advisers voted for the McCrone agreement in the ballot last year, on the assumption that they would receive a similar award to that given to teachers.
It is worth noting that, had the full McCrone rises been offered last week, most advisers would continue to be paid considerably less than if they had remained in the promoted posts from which they were recruited. Advisers, whose working day and holiday entitlement are already inferior, could not trade off hours for a pay increase.
There may be a ray of hope in the proposals for a revised spinal salary column, to which advisers will be job-sized next year. That could just be an opportunity for us to argue the case for parity at least with other promoted posts.
Changes to conditions include entitling advisers "quality improvement officers", with a view to pulling together the wide range of names given to those currently appointed under the advisers' salary scale: not a bad idea in itself, some might say. But what's in a name? While some view this as cosmetic and not worth arguing about, others see it as endorsing the trend away from their traditional support role in schools.
From the outset, we presented the case for maintaining the link with teachers. For most of the time during negotiations, the management side was adamant that this link, including the expectation that advisers be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, should be severed.
Advisers argued that schools would not readily take advice on management and the curriculum from a group who may not have had experience in the classroom or in a school-based promoted post. Support has come from the GTC itself. This was conceded by the SNCT, for the moment at least, and the break is no longer part of the proposed conditions of service.
The McCrone agreement was planned, some might say conceded, by the Scottish Executive because it was as much to do with raising standards as with increasing salaries. The Executive must surely be aware that schools will find it difficult, if not impossible, to meet the national agenda without targeted support from local authorities. To achieve this, good leadership from the directorate will be essential; but so too will be the guidance and support of a well-motivated advisory service - or whatever title they give us.
As schools aspire to full implementation of McCrone over the next few years, particularly with issues related to continuing professional development, the knowledge and experience of advisers will be crucial. When ballot papers drop through their letterboxes over the next few weeks, the disaffected will remain to be convinced that the offer recognises the work they do.
I suspect, however, that the battle-weary may concede that "a bird in the hand . . ."
John Muir is convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland advisers network.