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Sorting the strands of salary and structure;Platform;Opinion

The role of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee has been confused. Malcolm Maciver explains why

In much of the media coverage of events surrounding the Millennium Review and salary negotiations there has been remarkable confusion, especially over the powers, role and responsibility of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, which has been unjustly demonised in some quarters.

Set up in 1981, the SJNC is a tripartite body, with representatives of the Secretary of State, local authority employers and teachers. Thus the key players involved with teachers, their employment and funding contribute to decisions on pay and conditions.

This is a key strength of the SJNC. All settlements are the product of negotiation and agreement and must take account of the constraints within which all the participants operate. This requires flexibility and compromise. It is a classic example of free collective bargaining, where the participants have ownership of the outcomes. And there is, rightly, a legal obligation on employers to honour agreements reached.

This is in stark contrast to the mechanism of the Pay Review Body operating in England and Wales. There, the Government picks a panel which operates within Government-defined parameters. It takes evidence from interested parties - Government, employers and teachers - and makes recommendations to the Government. Finally, the Government decides on the terms to be imposed.

It is easy to refer to the marginally higher pay awards reached through the PRB. But it is worth remembering that it has consistently set its face against even recommending a class size maximum, while Scottish pupils and teachers have benefited from limits negotiated as far back as 1976. There are other respects in which Scottish teachers benefit from superior SJNC-negotiated conditions.

While Scottish teachers have recently been losing ground marginally in the pay stakes, English teachers have been paying the penalty through rises in class sizes. There, in the decade to 1996 the primary pupilteacher ratio has deteriorated by 6 per cent to 23.2. In Scotland, it has improved by 3 per cent to 19.6. In secondary, their PTR has deteriorated by 5 per cent to 16.6, while in Scotland it has scarcely changed, from 12.9 to 13.0. In effect, Scottish teachers have sacrificed pay increases to maintain decent class sizes. But Scottish employers need to recognise that teachers cannot be expected to tolerate this recent trend.

However, under the PRB, there is no scope for such choices to be made - either by employers or teachers. The EIS finds it difficult to understand why any union would wish to surrender its bargaining role in favour of central Government imposition, or, why any employing authority would wish to abdicate its responsibility to central Government.

But in assessing the worth of the SJNC, there should be a proper understanding of what it can and cannot do. It is restricted to fixing the teachers' pay and terms and conditions. It is not responsible for the structure or grades of promoted posts in schools, for which it is so often blamed.

The promoted post structure is the product of decisions by each employing authority, sometimes (but not always) following advice issued by Scottish Office circulars (particularly Nos 819 and 826). These specified the permitted grades and nomenclature of "management" posts - five (not, as often alleged, seven) in secondary: headteacher, depute HT, assistant HT, principal teacher and assistant principal teacher, and three in primary: headteacher, depute and assistant headteacher. They also indicated the pupil roll thresholds for the creation of such posts.

Latterly Strathclyde and Lothian Regions abandoned this advice. Strathclyde devised a system where schools were each granted a "basket" of points. The schools tailor-made their own structure, with each grade of post "costing" a specified number of points. Lothian created a promoted post profile for each school, with reference to a broad band of pupil rolls. Other authorities have followed the Scottish Office advice to a greater or less degree.

The variety of practice is testimony to the huge flexibility authorities enjoy in this regard. The one foray by the SJNC into the field of promoted posts was the establishment of senior teachers. This was an idea ahead of its time, a farsighted attempt to find ways of allowing career progression for teachers who preferred to remain primarily classroom practitioners.

It is notable how far the Department for Education and Employment has borrowed from the duties of the Scottish senior teacher for its advanced skills teacher.

Sadly, many employers quickly subverted the senior teacher post. In primary it was often subsumed into the main promotion ladder, filling a gap caused by the dearth of promoted posts there. Moreover, many directors and headteachers could not accept the concept of a teacher being paid more without having additional "management" tasks. If genuine "twin-tracking" is ever to be achieved it will require a fundamental change in the mindset of those who direct the work of teachers.

There is no doubt that the structure of promoted posts deserves examination and that is a task for the Millennium Review. Already calls have been made to push for "delayering". Interestingly, Denmark and Ireland are moving in the opposite direction, seeking to create more promoted grades.

There should be no preconceptions. The challenge for the Millennium Review is to produce pointers towards a system which is fair, transparent and fit for purpose - meeting the needs of teaching and learning. Then it should fall to the SJNC to do its job, determining the pay and duties attaching to posts in the new structure.

Malcolm Maciver is convener of the salaries and conditions of service committee of the Educational Institute of Scotland

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