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Pay whammy for advisers

The minister is set to hit his first post-McCrone backlash, reports Neil Munro.

Scotland's education advisers meet for their annual conference in Bellshill this weekend, still not convinced they are greatly loved.

Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, who is due to address them tomorrow (Saturday), has already been told of their immediate fears about a lack of direct representation in national negotiations that will fix their salaries in the light of the teachers' settlement.

These discussions will be held in the new Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, where the advisers' interests will be handled by the teaching unions. The talks will also have to agree pay levels for music instructors and educational psychologists, the other groups which represent the considerable amount of unfinished business from the post-McCrone deal.

Roderick MacKenzie, president of the Association of Educational Advisers in Scotland, declined to be drawn into the arguments before Mr McConnell's address. But he acknowledged there was "great concern about the representation process on the national negotiating body and whether the voice of advisers will be heard - and, more particularly, understood".

Mr MacKenzie, an adviser with Scottish Borders, pointed out this was the first time advisers had been left out of a teachers' settlement.

The pay deal is the latest of the many whammies to have struck advisers since reform of local government in 1996 turned their world upside down. Huge job cuts and changes in remits followed so that those providing subject and curricular expertise to schools felt they lost an empire but have not so far found a role.

Their association estimates that the number of full-time advisers may have been cut by as much as a third, from around 200 in the heyday of regional councils to some 70 now. "We face more work with fewer staff, falling salaries and reduced status," according to Tommy Doherty of North Lanarkshire, a member of the association's executive committee.

In 1989, an adviser in what would then have been a typical authorit of 50,000 to 75,000 pupils earned pound;23,709; this compared with pound;23,706 for the depute head in the largest secondary and pound;23,142 for the highest paid primary head. "So an adviser's post was a very attractive one for senior school staff," Mr Doherty said.

In April 1999, however, an adviser in a similar authority would have had a salary of pound;35,916, surpassed by the depute in the largest secondary on pound;38,862-pound;39,987 and even by the head of the second largest group of primary schools on pound;36,618.

The advisers' network of the Educational Institute of Scotland was due to meet yesterday (Thursday) to plan a way forward, the first chance they have had to look at the issues following the ballot on the teachers' deal.

John Muir, primary adviser in Highland, who chairs the EIS group, said there was now a clear problem in attracting advisers because of the salary differential. "There has to be a root and branch review," he said. "Morale has definitely suffered."

Authorities have increasingly seconded teachers to act as advisers, on the grounds that it is a staff development opportunity and refreshes the advisory service. "That's all very well," Mr Muir commented, "but an over-reliance on secondments leads to a lack of continuity which is particularly damaging when there is so much emphasis in learning nowadays on progress and progression."

The advisers point to heavyweight criticism of widespread secondments. HMI's recent report into East Dunbartonshire's service found the authority's educational development service had 13 seconded staff and only three in permanent posts. This, according to the report, "made it difficult for them to build up and sustain their knowledge of individual establishments and to follow up priorities for improvement with establishments on a long-term basis".

Mr Muir's other criticism is closer to his wallet. In April, when teachers receive the first 10 per cent instalment of their rise, "colleagues seconded from promoted posts will be working alongside full-time, experienced advisers earning considerably less than they are".

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