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Primary heads catch up

Primary heads should be in chirpy mood these days. At long last politicians of all parties have recognised the worth of pre-school education. Early intervention has now developed from the Pilton chalkface in Edinburgh into a Pounds 9 million national scheme, confirmed by the Education Minister's first policy announcement. There is general acceptance of the need for additional investment at the primary stages. And, unlike the secondary curriculum, the basic building blocks of primary teaching are in place.

The primary heads' leadership has also chalked up some successes, winning court battles on behalf of members facing accusations by pupils and raising their voices over playground supervision and discipline. Yet heads would not be heads if they became too happy in their work. David Paterson said in his outgoing speech as president of the Association of Head Teachers (Scotland): "Headteachers, deputes and staff are exhausted. School has taken over their lives."

There is no doubt that primary schools have a genuine grievance. While secondary heads will be vigilant to ensure that any switch of resources (for a transfer is all it can be in the current climate) does not take place at their expense, is it really defensible that a salary gap of Pounds 6,000 should have opened up for heads in charge of the same size of school, particularly when secondaries have an extensive management structure if not superstructure? Secondary heads have resisted the very principle of being paid the same as primary colleagues, but surely not to that extent.

In a sense, the salary alignment of primary and secondary promoted staff is unfinished business for national bargaining. The pass was essentially sold all those years ago when the single pay scale with a common maximum for all teachers was finally agreed. Such a move implied that, while primary and secondary teachers might be doing a different job, one was not to be valued at a lower level than the other.

These grievances, coupled with other resource problems identified by the new AHTS president (page two), could have serious implications for the quality of recruit attracted into primary leadership. Signs are beginning to emerge that vacancies for primary heads, who have to teach, manage, administer and offer curricular inspiration, are proving difficult to fill. The lot of the 56 per cent of primary heads with no assistants or deputes can only worsen as a nightmare of time management.

The joint inquiry announced today by the local authorities and unions (page one) could provide a chance - perhaps a last chance - to even out the inequalities between the sectors.

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