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Millennium talks resolve little

The joint inquiry by the unions and education authorities to take "public education into the millennium" has ended after a year in the expected series of compromises. The major commitment appears to be to hold further talks.

The ball is now in the Secretary of State's court as the two sides press for investment in the reform of teachers' salaries and career structures, as revealed in The TES Scotland two weeks ago.

Donald Dewar has been sent a copy of the report from the strategy group of the Millennium Review, agreed by the parties at a meeting in Edinburgh on Wednesday. It says the conclusions of the review's four task groups "provide a sound starting point for more detailed discussion and negotiation".

But the unions and local authorities believe negotiations will be fruitless unless Government cash is forthcoming for a "substantial increase" in pay, the creation of classroom-based "superteachers", which is already a Government objective, and a generous early retirement package to allow a shake-out of promoted posts in secondary schools.

Elizabeth Maginnis, the education authorities' leader, stressed councils were not looking for a blank cheque but "funding for modernisation".

Ian McCalman, past president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, who led the union side, said the responsibility lay with the Government "to ensure that funding is made available to kick-start the changes in the promoted post system and address the issue of teachers' pay".

The focus will now shift to the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, which will have the harder task of reaching detailed agreements. Talks are due to begin at the end of the month and be wrapped up at the end of the year. A critical issue will be whether the long-standing demand for more flexibility over pay and conditions, through local rather than national bargaining, can be satisfied.

Mrs Maginnis warned: "If we cannot succeed through negotiations to get a better balance between what is appropriate for national and for local level, then the local authorities will have to consider whether the SJNC is an appropriate vehicle in which to continue to negotiate."

The review has made no recommendations on where that line should be drawn. Its report is largely confined to generalised and unremarkable sentiments on matters where agreement could be found - education should receive a fairer share of national wealth, reforms should be fully costed and quality matters.

Similarly, lengthy discussions on how education authorities should fit into the work of the Scottish parliament concluded that the legislators should set the framework and councils should deliver the service.

The unions are content that the management side's more far-reaching ambitions, such as limiting national bargaining to salary matters and flattening the promoted post structure in secondary schools, have been thwarted.

On the other hand, the unions may have to swallow their suspicions of a "twin-track" promotion system, which would create "superteachers" on extra pay as an inducement to forsake promotion and stay in the classroom. Promotion changes, regarded by the authorities as essential to save money and streamline the curriculum, will also be fiercely contested by the powerful lobby of principal teachers.

Changes will stand a better chance of acceptance if there is an all-around hike in salaries. Both sides agree that the present scale, which takes an unpromoted honours graduate nine years to reach the top, should be shortened and those on the maximum should be paid more than the current #163;21, 954.

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