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NAS still finds yes is hardest word to say

DELEGATES at the annual Scottish conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Seamill were warned by their UK general secretary that the teaching unions "desperately need to find a way of saying yes to something and not no to everything".

But the conference appeared to be off-message and continued in largely denunciatory mode.

Nigel de Gruchy cited the battles over the teachers' contract in England during the 1980s when he counselled against automatic defence of the status quo. The result now is "the worst of both worlds" with no limits on maximum contracted time.

Mr de Gruchy warned that responses to the McCrone inquiry must accept the need to modernise, with pay linked to a system of appraisal. "Refusal to accept any change could lead to worse results than might otherwise have been the case. If additional hours are demanded, for example, unions should accept compensating separate payments."

The main response of the conference was none the less to demand that salaries return to levels set by the Houghton inquiry of almost 30 years ago. Pat O'Donnell from South Lanarkshire, a past Scottish president, said salaries had effectively halved since then.

Plans by Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, to amend the 1956 schools code also had delegates up in arms.

Tino Ferri, Scottish representative on the union's UK executive, said: "Sam's soap turns out to be a potent diluting agent which will sweep away the last vestiges of what made Scottish education a byword for excellence."

John Kelly, East Dunbartonshire ad a former president, suggested the real agenda behind changes to the code was to avoid looming teacher shortages. "They want to create generic teachers who can become specialists in 20 minutes," Mr Kelly said. "Where does this fit in with raising standards? What would be the point of having a General Teaching Council if these proposals go through?"

He added: "The long-term game plan is to have people who are not professionally qualified to teach and who therefore do not need to be paid professionally qualified salaries."

Another set of Government policies, on social inclusion, was given its routine lambasting by an NAS conference. In particular delegates supported their familiar complaint, raised by Alan Bainbridge, Aberdeen, that "inclusion of disruptive pupils and raising attainment are mutually exclusive".

Mr Bainbridge added: "I can just imagine Mr Murray at Rangers going to Mr Advocaat and saying, 'you must raise your game and get into Europe next season and, by the way, you've got to take three drop-outs from Aberdeen with you'."

Those who suffered most and and had decided they had had enough were "the dedicated and conscientious teachers who feel it very deeply when they can't keep control in a class or are not even allowed to finish a sentence. So the Government is actually getting rid of the better teachers with this policy."

Mr O'Donnell wondered if politicians who espoused social inclusion knew what it meant for a teacher to have to go into school each day "knowing that there is even one pupil in your class who wants to have a go at you".

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