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Galbraith deadline to end pay impasse

THE negotiating machinery for teachers has been put on probation by the new Children and Education Minister.

In his first interview since taking office, Sam Galbraith told The TES Scotland: "If the current negotiations deliver, that will obviously affect my thinking."

Effectively that gives the unions and education authorities a three-month deadline to come up with a package acceptable to the Scottish executive. Ministers will then decide whether the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee should be replaced as part of the forthcoming Education Bill, the first major piece of legislation for the Scottish Parliament which is likely to be unveiled in September.

In the meantime Mr Galbraith would not be drawn on the details of what he expects from the stalled negotiations, which have become further complicated by the virtual clear-out of the former management side following the local authority elections. "While the negotiations are going on I had better keep out of it," he said.

But teachers will have to get used to a familiar refrain from a minister who showed every sign of being as eager to embrace the mantra of "quality, standards, excellence and professionalism" as was Helen Liddell, his predecessor. The manner may not be hers but the message is substantially the same.

Mr Galbraith introduced one new mantra of his own which he repeated on several occasions: "We must move forward." At the same time he promised teachers stability and spoke in glowing terms about a visit on Tuesday to Greenock High, his old school. He is also impressed by the primary education his three daughters receive.

"I hold teachers in very high regard in society," he said. "But they have to deliver their side of the bargain - they have to deliver standards. They cannot say no to everything. I want them to come to me and say how things can be done, not why they can't be done."

Government policy will largely be business as before and he confirmed that the Education Bill would be drawn substantially from the Targeting Excellence White Paper published in January. There would be the opportunity for pre-legislative consultation on the Bill's contents after it was published and before its second reading.

Mr Galbraith pledged that his policies would also be informed by listening to a wide range of interests, from professionals to parents. "What will not shift is the business of providing excellence, driving up standards and delivering quality," he declared.

His report card on schools after a week in the job is that "some are very good, some could do better and some could do very much better . . . they're grabbing the quality agenda, they're becoming more inclusive and they're getting much closer to their communities."

Mr Galbraith believes the Scottish Parliament will make a major difference to education. Ministers will have more time to devote to the issues, there will be more scrutiny by MSPs and there will therefore be better legislation.

"Even when I was health minister I said that the two most important things in life are drinking water and education."

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