THE LEADING teachers' union has pushed workload issues back to the top of the agenda with the announcement by the Educational Institute of Scotland that 3,000 of its members are to be asked for their views on classroom burdens.
This will form a key part of the union's submission to the McCrone inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions.
The EIS is to commission the Scottish Council for Research in Education to carry out the independent study early in the new year, the second such investigation it has handled for the union.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary, said he was confident the findings would give a "robust and authoritative basis to what almost every teacher and his or her family has been saying for years - that the problems associated with teacher workload are serious and are getting worse".
Workload is the greatest problem facing teachers, Mr Smith said. That would be the "litmus test" of the McCrone recommendations, without which "there cannot be an outcome which is satisfactory to Scottish schools and teachers." Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, managed to swing the EIS in behind McCrone by adding workload issues to the committee's remit.
The sweetener that could sell a revised pay and conditions' package to a sceptical teaching profession is an early retirement package, backed by career breaks and secondments.
Local authorities will tell the McCrone inquiry of plans to devise a get-out scheme for burnt-out teachers nearing the end of their careers when they make their submission in the New Year. They believe much of the opposition to their previous reforms in the Millennium Review was down to the cynicism of an ageing profession and want to ease anxieties.
The TES Scotland understands the inquiry is being advised by other senior figures that an early retirement scheme is the way to convince teachers to back unpalatable reforms.
Danny McCafferty, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' education spokesman, said: "There should be teacher retirement packages and pension plans which allow people to leave with their heads held high, having contributed to the profession and not have to leave because they can't hack it any more."
Mr McCafferty said it was in the interests of the education profession to have a turnover of staff. An option for early retirement could be written into conditions of service as a reward. "We have not yet gone through the details but it is something we are examining and it is a submission we will make for McCrone to consider," he said.
The Cosla leader said it was time to concentrate on a second set of the 3Rs - "recruitment, retention and reward." He was speaking as the Convention set up a special task group to prepare the education authorities' evidence for McCrone. They were determined to devise a management system for schools - one of the ingredients on which the previous offer to teachers came to grief - which supported "the legitimate professional autonomy" of class teachers.
Mr McCafferty agreed on the importance of tackling workload and recruiting new blood if pupils were to benefit from "highly motivated, competent practitioners in every classroom."