Amber light for McCrone

MOVEMENT on teachers' pay and conditions now seems more likely than it has for the past 10 years after Educational Institute of Scotland leaders won the support of two-thirds of delegates for their positive spin on the McCrone inquiry recommendations.

Conference voted by 221 to 121 to accept the leadership case for opening detailed negotiations this autumn with ministers and employers, dismissing a left-wing call for outright rejection. Later, Ronnie Smith, in his general secretary's report, emphatically underlined the new mood.

"We do have to recognise that this report is significantly different from the discredited Cosla (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) proposals of last September, though I note some commentators are trying to portray it as similar," he said.

Mr Smith said that Professor Gavin McCrone had confirmed that the vast majority of teachers wanted to see changes. "The critical question is how we can secure the kind of changes which will restore teachers' salaries, professional status and morale, for if we fail to do that this country is in trouble," he told delegates.

McCrone deserved "the most careful, thoughtful and considered examination and appraisal". There were parts the union would find unpalatable, some that were ambiguous, and concepts that would need to be fleshed out.

Mr Smith said proposed pay levels would take teachers significantly nearer competitive salaries, while the "long-cherished ambition" of securing harmonisation of pay, structures and terms and conditions of employment among all sectors "is at last within reach".

Other pluses were the acknowledgement of the principal teacher's role and the post's extension to the primary sector; the recognition of the centrality of teaching and preparation, and that teachers spend too much time on non-professional tasks; and the prospect of "a quantum leap" in properly accredited continuing professional development.

Mr Smith dismissed suggestions that the chartered teacher status was performance-related pay by another name. "Certainly, Gavin McCrone doesn't believe it is that, nor do I," he continued.

The concept of chartered teachers would be "stillborn" if the status and associated salary was in the sole gift of headteachers, Mr Smith warned. But it would be difficult to arge against it if it was linked to professional principles, development and competencies - "a badge of professionalism recognised by the General Teaching Council".

However, Mr Smith said McCrone had failed to address class sizes, ignored advisers and psychologists, and failed to explain how the balance of core time and collegiate time would work. Conservation of salaries and an early retirement package were other areas for further talks.

"The true test of McCrone will be the extent to which it arrests the growth in teacher workload- whether it can restore to teachers some control over their working and personal lives," he added.

Delegates endorsed the leadership call for full Scottish Executive funding of the proposals and agreed to hold a special general meeting in September to approve a response. Members will be balloted on the final deal, probably before Christmas.

Malcolm Maciver, salaries' convener, warned conference that to immediately dismiss McCrone would mean "some form of black hole". It was a starting point.

Willie Hart, Glasgow local secretary, rejected the "get lost, get stuffed" approach proposed by anti-leadership groups. "I am absolutely convinced there is no mood out there for a ballot on industrial action," he said.

But John Dennis, Dumfries and Galloway, accused leaders of "blundering about blindly in Galbraith's camp", a reference to the Education Minister, Sam Galbraith. Talks should not open until the minister had pledged to fund McCrone.

Martin Rogan, also from the south-west, said members were asking how many times did they have to reject Cosla's proposals. "There is no guarantee against the erosion of salaries and once you've selt the jerseys and conditions, you'll never get them back," he cautioned.

Mary Matheson, Aberdeen, said: "Over the past two years I've shown more flexibility than Houdini, written on more pieces of paper and forms than ever before, and included children who have been verbally abusive when asked to do work." She had taken on new initiatives from early intervention to team teaching German and managed a classroom assistant and two auxiliaries.

"I am so exhausted by the day's work I can scarcely manage a civil word with my family," Ms Matheson declared, "let alone contemplate a course of study."

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