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Four-year pay deal to keep the peace

Ministers are ready to sanction a remarkable four-year pay deal for teachers designed to bolster recruitment and nail any classroom discontent over salaries for the foreseeable future.

After an initial meeting last week of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), talks are currently going on behind the scenes to wrap up a deal next month that will run until 2009. By then teachers at the top of the main grade - the bulk of the classroom force - are likely to be earning more than pound;31,500 a year.

Should negotiations stumble on a four-year deal, employers and the Scottish Executive are likely to press for at least a two-year agreement. Unions are not averse to more stability in pay.

It is believed that local authorities and the Executive, which is now a full member of negotiations on pay and conditions, want to remove pay from any future talks about conditions of service after 2006, the end of the five-year timetable for implementing the post-McCrone agreement.

Any long-term deal would also take teacher pay issues beyond the next set of Scottish Parliament and council elections in 2007. One advantage is that local authorities would be able to plan their education budgets more effectively. Other council workers may also be offered longer term deals.

An offer of around 10 per cent over four years - averaging 2.5 per cent a year - may be enough to persuade teacher unions to back a deal. Anything marginally above settlements south of the border, where teachers this year have been awarded 2.5 per cent by the independent pay review body, is likely to be looked on favourably.

Part of the outline deal is understood to include further cost of living pay rises if inflation runs ahead of expectations in the last two years of the projected agreement.

As demands for more teachers increase, all sides in the SNCT will want to ensure there is no retreat from the 23.1 per cent pay hike of the three-year post-McCrone national agreement, which ran out this month.

Surveys have shown that teachers are generally content with pay levels.

Conditions consistently remain the principal concern.

But ministers, in particular, will want to make absolutely certain that there is no disincentive to join the profession and are well aware of the difficulties they face in meeting ambitious recruitment targets against a flood of imminent retirements by the end of the decade.

Salaries will have to remain attractive to young graduates and adult returners, who increasingly make up a larger percentage of probationers.

Teachers, once working, have also to be persuaded to continue in the classroom and not drop out to pursue other careers once their interest wanes after a few years.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, signalled plans last month to increase the number of teachers in aesthetic subjects and learning support as part of the Executive's pledge to raise the teaching force to 53,000 by 2007.

Local authorities are being encouraged to use any extra staff to bolster the creative side of what schools do and improve young people's motivation.

Many are already planning to use the extra space in the primary timetable created by the cuts in class contact time to 22.5 hours a week by 2006 to develop sports, arts and languages.

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