Directors and education conveners were summoned to Murrayfield Stadium to hear the Scottish Office view that the "time is now right" for schools to go for Investors in People accreditation, but several highlighted low morale among teachers at a time of budget cuts.
They also complained about the lack of extra support from central government to pay for Investors in People assessments, which can cost a secondary school Pounds 1,500. But others insisted that the case for extra funding for schools would be enhanced by having external Investors in People judgments that apply equally to businesses and services.
Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, stressed there would be no increase in schools' workload and no duplication of effort, a message reinforced by Archie McGlynn, head of the Inspectorate's audit unit. "This is not another add-on or a bolt-on. It is not another demand on the system. It is part of what is happening and it is a huge investment in staff in Scottish schools," Mr McGlynn said.
Mr Robertson told the audience that performance indicators used by schools were those employed by Investors in People. "There is one set of national indicators, one set of benchmarks," he said.
"I believe that Investors in People accreditation would offer schools in Scotland a public recognition of excellence in this area and, at the same time, would support the quality initiative in Scottish Schools. Such moves could prove to be a major boost to morale and demonstrate, for example, that management and organisation in Scottish schools compare favourably with business and commerce."
Mr Robertson urged local authority chiefs to "take things forward that bit more, be that bit more open, work towards your own standards and quality reports based on the HMI national indicators".
Investors in People was a chance for schools to declare what they were about and how well they were doing. Improvements would flow from investing in leaders and promoting staff development and, through appraisal, from evaluating the impact on policies.
Bob McKay, director of education in Perth and Kinross and president of the Association of Directors of Education, argued that the time was not right to introduce a further measure such as Investors in People when staff were demoralised, demotivated and under attack.
The Scottish Office was inconsistent in its approach to quality assurance, he said. It was stressing self-evaluation and simultaneously insisting on staff appraisal.
Mr McKay pointed out that the two schools chosen by the Scottish Office to illustrate the benefits of Investors in People, Edinbarnet primary, Clydebank, and Lockerbie Academy, did not have formal appraisal structures.
Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector, replied that Investors in People was important because it valued staff contributions when morale was low.
But David Cameron, performance review manager in Fife, supported Mr McKay's view that the system was already committed to quality assurance without the Investors in People addition.
"The upshot must be an improvement of service we offer to young people. We should raise the question whether it (Investors in People) is the most valuable investment we can make at the moment," Mr Cameron said.
Mr McGlynn said it was important for schools to have the right atmosphere and to time their entry into Investors in People. Schools which wished should be allowed to continue.
Liz Reid, director in Edinburgh, supported this line. "The time is right for this, it is an integrative mechanism," Mrs Reid said. Schools adopting Investors in People practices would prove to the business community they could match their standards.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, later told The TES Scotland the theory was attractive and he supported anything that would enhance opportunities for teachers. But there had been no mention of extra investment.
"The climate we are in is one in which staff development budgets are being mercilessly squeezed," Mr Smith said. "If this is about developing a rationale for where you direct diminishing resources, it is not any big deal. One of our difficulties is that authorities are dispensing with people, not investing in people."
Shona Carmichael, headteacher of Edinbarnet, whose Investors in People assessment was sponsored by the local enterprise company, said "it was not very difficult at all" and "a celebration of success" which was good for staff morale. However, there were difficulties when school budgets were being cut by half.
Graham Herbert, acting head at Lockerbie Academy, said the accreditation process took less than a year to complete and brought "a corporate pride" to the school which felt it was achieving on a level with local businesses.
HOW IIP WORKS. The 23 performance indicators that make up the Investors in People standard have been reduced for schools to a cluster of four: staff development and appraisal, the development plan, implementing the development plan, and effectiveness of leadership. An Investors in People in Schools Pack, is available from local enterprise companies or ASCETT, 120 Bothwell Street, Glasgow G2 7JP.