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Higher Still: Union boycott ballot delay?

The threat of a Higher Still boycott could be hanging over secondary schools for the rest of the year.

The 80 members of the Educational Institute of Scotland's executive council will be asked at its Glasgow meeting this weekend to follow its leadership's advice and postpone a ballot decision until November. This compromise came in a knife-edge recommendation of 11 votes to 9 by the union's finance and general purposes committee, its "inner cabinet" of senior figures.

The EIS leadership is clearly uncomfortable with the ballot ordered by its annual conference in June, particularly since the Education Minister's announcement last week of Pounds 24 million extra for Higher Still.

The need for a compromise was highlighted in the response from Ronnie Smith, the EIS general secretary, who described Helen Liddell's move as "a very positive development" and "a significant improvement on the cash already made available".

But Mr Smith also made it clear the union regarded the new money as only a first step and said its members will expect fuller assurances that training will be available for every single teacher involved in Higher Still. The Government had also yet to meet EIS concerns about bi-level teaching and assessment, he added, although Mrs Liddell attempted to do so this week (page 4).

A two-month delay in staging a ballot is designed to keep the pressure on the Government and keep EIS members happy as well as giving Ministers more time to demonstrate their good faith.

Supporters of the harder line will argue that the #163;24 million is not as generous as it seems. It is phased over four years and is split between #163;18 million for schools and #163;6.25 million for further education colleges. Only #163;3 million will be immediately available in the current financial year for schools, where the unrest is greatest.

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