Local authorities have finally got together in an attempt to ditch the agreements on teachers' disciplinary procedures inherited from the former regions. But changes tabled to the teachers' scheme of conditions of service have to be agreed in the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee and the unions are in no mood to make concessions.
Councils have until now acted individually and the Educational Institute of Scotland is threatening to take Argyll and Bute, West Dunbartonshire and Edinburgh to an industrial tribunal over what the union sees as unilateral changes.
An interim deal has been struck with South Lanarkshire, the first council to stick its neck out. But the EIS has warned that if the personnel committee insists on extending a common disciplinary system to teachers the union will take action there.
Ken Wimbor, the union's assistant secretary, said: "This is just another example of the corporatist approach involving single-table bargaining and the same procedures for all staff."
Councils want the right to dismiss a teacher to rest with the director of education or a senior official. There would be a right of appeal to a subcommittee of councillors who would deal with all employees. Council leaders maintain this is an important advance on existing procedures which do not allow a right of appeal.
The management side of the SJNC also wants to short-circuit the handling of oral and written warnings. Teachers can currently appeal beyond the director of education to the relevant subcommittee. The proposed change would prevent this.
The EIS has advised its 32 local associations to suspend discussions on local disciplinary agreements pending the negotiations within the SJNC. Mr Wimbor said: "I accept that there should be council-wide procedures but disciplinary action is clearly a matter between the teacher and the employer."
This EIS intervention came as something of a relief to councillors in Dumfries and Galloway which has been wrestling with an overhaul of its disciplinary process. The council's review stems, however, from a particular case where, in what one councillor described as a "shambles", the full education committee overturned the director of education's recommendation that a teacher at St Joseph's Academy in Dumfries be dismissed after an alleged assault on a pupil.
Tuesday's meeting of the council's education committee agreed to note progress towards improving the system but also to put any final decisions on hold until the outcome of the national negotiations is known.
Tom McAughtrie, a former Labour chairman of the education committee, had alleged that councillors' inept handling of the disciplinary hearings in that case stemmed from inexperience.
But Ken Macleod, the director of education, said this week that it would be unreasonable to expect every member of the education committee to undergo training. A limited number could be trained to build up case experience, as happened for other groups of staff. Mr Macleod said this would be made easier if the same councillors handled disciplinary cases for all staff.
Ian Smith, Dumfries and Galloway's chief executive, said: "My main concern is that for any similar appeals of this type in future, in all the circumstances and given the issues involved, members of the appeal panel should have undertaken full and supportive training."
The education committee also implicitly accepted the need to tighten procedures by agreeing to consider the appointment of a personnel expert within the education department.