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No U-turn on seats for unions

Neil Munro takes the Holyrood pulse.

THE Scottish Executive has refused to bow to all-party demands, including one from a former minister, to appoint a union representative or class teacher to its committee of inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions.

But, in an attempt to reassure critics, Peter Peacock, the Deputy Children and Education Minister, made it clear for the first time that the Executive regarded the management's contentious proposals as effectively dead.

The STUC had written to every MSP in advance of last week's debate on the dispute adding its disapproval of the "quite staggering" lack of balance in the committee. The SNP made much of this criticism and was supported by Malcolm Chisholm, the former Scottish Office minister.

Mr Peacock insisted that the two headteacher members on the inquiry, one of whom is a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland, would bring their trade union knowledge to the table. The heads are Ann Mulgrew of St Andrew's High in East Kilbride and Patricia McColl of Campie primary in Musselburgh.

But Mr Chisholm (Lab, Edinburgh North and Leith) said: "The minister must recognise that the experience of ordinary classroom teachers is very different from that of headteachers."

This was echoed by Murray Tosh (Con, South of Scotland) who said the absence of a practising teacher would limit the inquiry's work.

But partial support for ministers came from Ian Jenkins (Lib Dem, Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) who suggested that appointing one teacher would be "a token gesture" since they could not speak for the whole profession.

And Maureen Macmillan (Lab, Highlands and Islands) said headteachers are well aware of classroom concerns.

The MSPs largely rehearsed well-polished arguments during the three-hour debate, which was initiated by the SNP. All parties positioned themselves as the teachers' friend, apparently determined to improve their pay, respect and prospects.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's education spokeswoman, wanted the dispute referred to the Parliament's education, culture and sport committee rather than settled by a "hand-picked" committee of inquiry.

But Brian Monteith, her Tory opposite number, said the committee already had a packed agenda ranging from special needs to the future of Hampden. And Mr Peacock said it would be inappropriate for a parliamentary committee to become involved in an industrial dispute.

Mr Monteith said the Tory preference was for the dispute to be referred to arbitration through the Acas machinery. Mr Peacock said matters had moved beyond that stage and a long-term solution had to be found.

Mr Peacock and Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, reiterated their view that the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee had failed teachers. Mr Peacock pointed out that education authorities had lost faith in the committee which meant half its members believe it has no future.

Mr Galbraith said the SJNC had also fostered "mistrust and dissent", as media reports of adversarial battles between unions and management had made all too clear.

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