Boycott blues

The vote by the Educational Institute of Scotland for a Higher Still boycott was overwhelming. Similar support can be expected from the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. The Scottish Office made modest concessions to exceptionally struggling schools between the close of the EIS ballot and the announcement of the result. The mood now among ministers is firm. The programme has to go ahead.

Donald Dewar ended his contribution to the EdinburghTES Scotland conference with a ringing declaration that pupils and students needed Higher Still and no further delay could be brooked. He believes that areas of difficulty can be ironed out because they are not matters of fundamental principle. They should not stand in the way of the wider gains to be made.

Such assertions suggest that battle lines have been drawn. But another of Mr Dewar's points is that a start on Higher Still courses is still months away. There is time for more talking, if not for further overt concessions. The Government repeatedly returns to the widespread backing for the principles of reform.

The unions have yet to take the temperature of their members for a determined fight that goes beyond statements of concern and frustration. They have also to gauge parental opinion, on which they relied in previous tussles with government. The Scottish School Board Association believes that enough has already been done to reassure teachers.

Compared with a decade ago most members of the workforce have had to accept unsettling change as an inevitable part of employment practice. Teachers, while undoubtedly also recipients, or victims, of change, have not suffered the harsh lessons dealt out to many white-collar workers. In protecting conditions of service, demanding adequate preparation for new kinds of curricula and assessment, and finally withdrawing their co-operation they have to balance reasonable expectation against accusations of foot dragging.

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