Back from the brink

TIME IS still on the side of Higher Still. The courses do not have to start until next August, although any halt in preparation work now would be a hindrance. Already the Government has made clear that the programme is to be phased in and that schools or departments with a special problem can use existing Highers for a year.

So unlike many industrial disputes the one which the Education Minister, local authorities and unions sought to resolve this week does not cause immediate lost "production". There is time for more talking and that is what the parties have now given themselves by placing fresh emphasis on the liaison group (foolishly boycotted by the Educational institute of Scotland on Monday). Helen Liddell has repeatedly said that as many concessions as possible have been made to the teachers. In terms of money that is no doubt true, but reassurance does not always need to come in the shape of extra resources.

The EIS must be relieved by the outcome of this week's talks. Its boycott, though heavily backed by those who bothered to vote, was portrayed as splitting the institute and crucially parent backing has been absent. Headteachers at their conference last weekend seemed to favour going ahead without further delay. Serious problems are confined to English and one or two other subjects.

It is clear, however, that classroom teachers remain the most sceptical and worried. Many feel they have been left in the dark. Involving the poor bloody infantry in decision-making is always difficult but worth the effort. South Ayrshire is to set up a committee of unpromoted staff, primary and secondary (page five). The aim is to bring them into implementation of policy and to listen to their ideas. It could become tokenistic but it might help to make "ownership" more real.

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