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Ballot on industrial action may prove risky

So the pay talks have collapsed. The unions are moving to ballot and recommending their members to turn down the employers' offers (p5). The teachers - many of them - are champing at the bit, angry that conditions they waited years for are being changed by the local authorities even as Gerry McCormac reviews them.

"Divide and rule" is how the troops on our website forum see it, as one by one different tranches of the teaching workforce are picked off. Supply teachers could have their pay cut by anything up to 30-35 per cent. Chartered teachers are to have their increments frozen. Probationers have to work longer hours. Mothers returning from maternity leave are to lose their holiday rights. Teachers who are sick are to be paid less, and those who are very sick will lose even more. It's little wonder they're preparing to man the barricades - and that's not mentioning the two-year pay freeze that everyone will face at a time of rising inflation.

It has taken a decade to build up the self-respect and ambition of teachers, the professional development and career ladder - it took a former doctor, Sam Galbraith, when he was Education Minister, to ask why they were not respected as professionals in the way doctors were, expected to carry on refreshing and honing their skills as they progressed through their careers. The best were always professionals anyway, even if they weren't paid accordingly, but they too got new opportunities to do placements and attend courses to expand their minds. Wisdom is approached through the intellect, as Lindsay Paterson writes this week (p35), on the importance of academic research in teachers' own studies.

But now, instead of nurturing that sense of worth, it seems to be of little value, or a luxury we can't afford. Even those who have paid for chartered teachers courses out of their own pockets are to have their ambition thwarted, nipped in the bud. It doesn't take a psychologist to tell you how damaging it is to build someone up, only to knock them down again.

No one would say Cosla has an easy job, and they have moved on a number of issues - protecting conserved pay for promoted posts and guaranteeing a minimum number of teachers. The councils and the Government find themselves in an impossible position in the current financial crisis. It may be that holding a ballot on industrial action on the eve of the elections will work in favour of the teacher unions, but it is still a high-risk strategy. If the SNP is returned, it will have a form of endorsement that allows it to plough ahead with its cuts package for education. But there is no guarantee that Labour would offer anything better.

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