No compulsory redundancies at SQA, vows Somerville

The 'clarity and certainty' over jobs comes after a union ballot shows 84.4% back industrial action over SQA reform plans

Emma Seith

No compulsory redundancies at SQA, vows Somerville

Scotland's education secretary has said that the replacement of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and the reform of Education Scotland will not result in compulsory redundancies for staff at either organisation.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scotland's education secretary, has sought to offer “clarity and certainty to staff” after a consultative ballot by the union Unite – which has the biggest union representation in the SQA – showed that 84.4 per cent were prepared to take industrial action in a 78.4 per cent turnout.

The union warned earlier this month it would be carrying out the ballot and that strike action could disrupt the exams which the government hopes will run as normal this year, after two years of disruption caused by the pandemic.

News: SQA strike action could disrupt exams, warns union

Background: External exams to go ahead in 2022 ‘if safe to do so’

Reform: SQA to be replaced, education secretary reveals

2020 results: SQA results fiasco 'could have been partially avoided'

2021 results: Petition calls for SQA to end 'exams in all but name'

Unite says SQA staff have been left in limbo since the government announced in June that the body would be replaced, with a review into the future of SQA and Education Scotland – whose consultation period closes on Friday 26 November – being led by Professor Ken Muir.

Now Shirley-Anne Somerville has written to SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson, saying there will be no compulsory redundancies as a direct result of any restructuring required as a result of the replacement of the SQA.  

Ms Somerville also said she expected staff terms and conditions to be protected throughout the reform process.

Similar reassurances have been offered to Education Scotland staff, given that it also faces fundamental change, which could include having its inspection remit removed.

However, according to Unite the communication from Ms Somerville to the SQA still leaves “many unanswered questions”.

Alison MacLean, Unite industrial officer, told Tes Scotland the letter indicated there might not be a job for everyone and that SQA staff could face “a bun fight” over roles in any new organisation, and then potential redeployment within the public sector. It would be “stressful and difficult” until it was made clear where they were “going to land”, she said. 

Whether the dispute was over would be up to the membership, Ms MacLean said. A meeting would take place next week and another consultative ballot held over whether the reassurances offered were enough to end the dispute, she added.

Ms Somerville, in the letter to SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson, wrote: “You first of all asked for a commitment to no compulsory redundancies (NCR). I am pleased to be able to offer such a commitment, in the terms outlined below.

“As you know, pay policy is currently set on an annual basis, with the current pay policy including a commitment to NCR across the Scottish public sector until the end of March 2022. Decisions on future years will be made in due course.

“Notwithstanding any commitments to NCR that may be included in future pay policy, I can confirm that SQA can give a commitment to staff that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a direct result of any restructuring required due to replacement of SQA.”

On the issue of jobs transferring to any new qualifications body – or staff being transferred to other roles in the public sector – Ms Somerville wrote: “You will appreciate that, until we have received and considered recommendations from Professor Muir, it is not possible to say which roles will be in scope of any potential transfer or transfers. However, I can confirm that my clear expectation is that, throughout this process, terms and conditions will be protected.

“I can also give a commitment that, having assessed whether staff are in scope of any transfer, in the event where it is identified that roles are no longer required, we will facilitate redeployment across the Scottish public sector, work with you and SQA management to explore the potential benefits in a programme of support for staff considering forward career options and development, and support SQA in developing a voluntary exit scheme where appropriate.”

Ms Somerville also said that following Professor Muir’s recommendations – which are due in early 2022 – that “a tripartite forum” will be established between SQA, the Scottish government and Education Scotland "to take forward an agreed transition and change management process".

This would include dialogue with trade unions, she said.

In a letter to Education Scotland chief executive and chief inspector of education Gayle Gorman, Ms Somerville said she could "confirm that Education Scotland can give a commitment to staff that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a direct result of any restructuring required due [the organisation's] reform".

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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