A McCrone transfer versus a Beckham strike

AM I the only person to compare the coverage given to the England football team with the publicity given to schools at the moment?

In fact, one could extend the comparison by stating that working in the FE sector is like being a Scottish football supporter: you know that your sector (or the Scotland football team) is important and newsworthy, but you also know that generally more significance and therefore more media coverage will be attached to the schools sector (or the English football team).

The aftermath of the Sweden game and the build-up to the match with Argentina were accompanied by news of discussions of teacher unhappiness with the McCrone settlement at the Educational Institute of Scotland conference. I do not intend discussing the support, or otherwise, by Scots of the English team - that would be the subject of a PhD thesis - but in terms of support for teachers being awarded the McCrone money I think most people in FE, though envious of the increased salaries, would have been happy to see an award of that magnitude being made.

It was obvious, even when McCrone was being introduced, that there were significant tensions to do with the implementation of the deal. I know that this is the same for any agreement of this type where extra money has been given against changes in working practices. But even from the outset, the way seemed fraught with difficulties.

Last week brought news that EIS opponents of compulsory internal assessment in Higher Still exams had voted their disapproval of the union's executive council for not implementing the boycott of internal assessment agreed at last year's annual meeting. Further indications of the difficulties in implementing the deal were the EIS general secretary's attack on the "enemies" of the McCrone agreement and on Professor Gavin McCrone himself for comments he had made about the way the deal was being implemented.

If one continues with the football analogy I suppose it's like the England draw with Sweden - not an absolute disaster, but an indication that some things need to be sorted. Incidentally, Ronnie Smith, the EIS general secretary, in defending the settlement, alluded to the problems of finding jobs for new entrants to the profession and suggested it was a problem colleagues in England would give their eye teeth to be wrestling with .

It might not only be school managers in England who would be prepared to contemplate a visit to the dentist. College lecturers in England took strike action recently in support of a demand that, by 2004, members' pay should rise to a level that would close an estimated 12 per cent salary differential with school teachers. The Association of Colleges offered a 1.5 per cent pay increase which was rejected by NATFHE, the lecturers' union as insulting.

Since we do not have national bargaining in Scottish FE it will be up to each college to make its own offer. Some colleges offered extended deals last year in the hopeexpectation of better times ahead or even of a McCrone type settlement for FE, but the settlement given to Scottish colleges is an increase of only 1.5 per cent on last year and, given the financial situation in many colleges, I cannot see the money for salary increases of more than 1.5 per cent being easily found, especially in a year when increases in employers' contributions to National Insurance and to pension funds are starting to kick in.

Perhaps it's time to anticipate queues outside dentists' surgeries.

Norman Williamson is principal of Coatbridge College and a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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