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No holiday yet as all heads turn to Labour

With only a week of the session to go, this is no time for teachers to fall out with their heads, but staffrooms are bound to react with dismay to the animus of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland towards the teachers' contract. The HAS has used the opportunity of responding to Labour's education proposals to prod the government-in-waiting towards a thorough revision of conditions of service.

It is ironic that heads see potential allies in Labour: many a constituency party depends on classroom teachers to furnish its office-bearers and key activists. But "new" Labour is no friend of long-established and indefensible special interests. Although even Lady Thatcher proved incapable of undermining the power of the Scottish teacher unions, heads clearly believe that Tony Blair might relish a fight from which the Iron Lady shirked.

Staffroom adherents to existing conditions of service will not be surprised that the local authority employers will welcome the heads' initiative. Elizabeth Maginnis, the employers' spokesman, has long advocated reform, but her lack of success in starting the process of change has equalled her inability to convince fellow councillors Edinburgh of the need to close schools. The mills of God indeed grind slow.

At the recent conference of the Educational Institute of Scotland the notion of an unholy alliance between employers and headteachers would have struck a chord. But despite the regular call for improvements to conditions of service, union activists know that they are having to play off the back foot. Unlike their forebears they are defending what they have achieved rather than demanding a fairer deal.

The upshot is that heads have given significant impetus towards change. So far the Government has drawn back from dismantling or reforming the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee which is the repository for the teachers' contract. But there will be nods of approval, not least among the 32 councils, for the heads' suggestion of a two-tier contract which would add local discretion to national uniformity. Yet although the EIS is not organised on a council-by-council basis, it would regard a concession to local autonomy as opening the door to a general worsening of conditions.

As in further education, every employer would be tempted to adopt models best suited to management needs. So far Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth has not tackled teachers with the brio he has shown towards supreme court judges. But now that secondary-school leaders are calling upon Labour to embrace the managerial culture, he might be tempted to follow Disraeli and dish the Whigs.

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