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Change at the double

No one wants to see industrial trouble in schools, but the Government may be quietly relieved that its dispute with the unions over the timing and resourcing of Higher Still is not the only cause of tension. The Millennium Review, which was principally a dialogue between the unions and the local authorities, led only to a postponement of decisions, and there is no reason to assume the new talks will find agreement any easier to reach.

Local government leaders have thrown down the gauntlet to teachers, arguing that their traditional conditions-of-service privileges cannot remain unchallenged and may not be serving the profession well. The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, usually spare with denunciatory language, sees a threat to its core membership, subject teachers, and is adamant that the structure of secondary schools must not be tampered with.

Both disputes concern the direction and pace of change. Teachers say they remain committed to the reform of upper school courses and examinations. But they need more help and in some cases a better sense of direction by those instigating the changes. No doubt they would argue that since Higher Still imposes its greatest burdens on principal teachers, this would be the worst time to overturn the structure of subject departments in the interest of management theory, which happens these days to favour "flattening". Career insecurity is the last thing teachers would need as they wrestle with such novelties as internal assessment at Intermediate levels.

Despite the clear determination of the Educational Institute of Scotland to proceed immediately with a ballot which could stop Higher Still in its tracks, there is time and room for negotiation. The Government has the opportunity to explain in detail how its extra cash will be used. It did not help its cause, however, by dissuading the Higher Still Development Unit from contributing an article about in-service plans to this week's TES Scotland feature on professional development.

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