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Steps forward on more flexible practice

There is little closer to people's hearts than their pay and working conditions. So there's plenty to interest teachers in this week's TESS, with news of what's happening in this year's talks on the national agreement (page 5), following the McCormac review, and a News Focus on the role of men in primary schools (pages 12-15).

It looks increasingly unlikely that there will be any improvement on the 1 per cent pay offer from Cosla that is currently on the table, or in short-term supply pay, which has caused teachers and managers seeking cover so much grief. Talks are still continuing on those, but the clock is ticking with everything to be signed off by April.

There is, however, significant progress on working conditions and what the new week will look like under draft changes to the teachers' handbook seen by TESS. Teachers will still have to vote, of course, to accept or reject these.

The good news for teaching staff is that there is no change to their "McCrone time" in terms of how many hours and where they have to spend them, so they will still be able to leave the school premises and do their marking at home, say. But they will be expected to be more flexible, so in future, non-contact time can vary across a period of up to four weeks, so long as the weekly average is still 22.5 hours. This could be helpful for blocking off larger periods of time for Curriculum for Excellence initiatives or professional development but, under the proposals, it will have to be discussed prior to the beginning of the academic year as part of working time arrangements, so that teachers have plenty of notice.

The bad news for teachers - and a potential stumbling block for the agreement - is the removal from the SNCT handbook of the current list of duties they are not expected to perform, the idea being that everyone will work in a climate of "collegiality", in the spirit of true professionals. At a time when large numbers of support staff are being cut, many will be unhappy about what they could be asked to do. It will take wise and sensitive management by senior staff to handle this well, if it goes through.

Overall, working practices do not appear to be drastically altered - certainly not to the extent that Gerry McCormac, the author of the review on teacher employment, might have wished. The greater flexibility that was required for Curriculum for Excellence has been built into the system, but with some protective measures for teachers put in place.

Whatever the final outcome in the next few weeks, the majority of teachers will still count their blessings that they are not working south of the border under education secretary Michael Gove (pages 10-11).

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