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A fudge too far

IT is not often the leadership of the Educational Institute of Scotland misjudges the mood of its members. But so it was at this year's conference when it was given a bloody nose by delegates tired of "fudge and nudge". The issues ranged from arcane arguments about the internal constitutional restructuring of the union to the substantive matter of internal assessment.

Of course, union leaderships have to make judgments - and they have to assess the views of the membership at large not just the activists sitting in Dundee's Caird Hall. But, as one delegate pointed out, the annual conference call for a boycott of internal assessment had been thwarted on each occasion over the past three years. This was clearly a fudge too far. On the other hand, the leadership heard plenty of evidence that the membership does not speak with one voice on the issue - if indeed, judging by the paltry response to the union's consultative exercise, it speaks with any voice at all.

Although this year's conference had the usual mix of predictable breast beating and pedestrian posturing, it is now possible to discern some fault lines between teachers and the Executive as the third of the season's union conferences comes to an end. The vehemence with which all three conferences assailed the inclusion of disturbed youngsters in schools - as distinct from special needs pupils - is a wake-up call to ministers that they have not won either hearts or minds for this policy.

The second issue which is gathering a head of steam is the need to make radical inroads into class sizes. Quite simply, much of Government policy is undeliverable without moves in that direction. Even Nicol Stephen, the Deputy Education Minister, was forced to concede this week the relevance of class size to his review of physical education. Ominously for the Executive, these are subjects over which union leaderships are not adrift from their members.

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