A carve up sliced too thinly;The Sweeney;School Management

5th February 1999 at 00:00
The annual pay battle has commenced in time-honoured style.

It would be tempting to conclude from the shock-horror-revelations on pay that employers were taking advantage of the negative climate induced by the Quality and Standards report to spring on teachers an offer they wouldn't dare refuse. In reality the leaking of the details of the classroom Klondyke appears to be the result of old-fashioned ineptitude on the union side rather than management opportunism.

The world-beating exclusive of a gargantuan leap in the salaries of classroom teachers was signalled in TES Scotland away back in August last year, including the suggestion of tartanised superteachers on the English model.

The procession of "spokes-persons" queuing up to reject the deal before it is offered is reminiscent of Houghton and Clegg and of a distinguished list of adventurers who have braved the inhospitable tundra of teachers' pay and conditions.

The involvement of the different unions - EIS, SSTA, NAS, PAT - and sundry other abbreviated bodies would seem very odd to other professions. Many groups of workers have found it in their interest to lay aside historical rivalries and create amalgamated associations which represent reasonably homogeneous groups of workers.

Unison manages to look after office staff, technicians and even jannies, who have working conditions and pay arrangements of mystical complexity. The teachers' case has been diluted over the years by competition among the associations and the public is puzzled by pronouncements ostensibly offering the views of teachers from organisations whose constituency is scarcely representative.

A more flexible promotion structure based on an allocation of points to each school is long overdue, and is a logical consequence of devolved school management. Schools could then assign responsibilities and rewards in response to local needs. It is difficult to see how departmental management will operate in secondary schools, if the number of principal teachers or middle managers is significantly reduced.

The PE block in Holy Rood, for example, is one of the most enduring empires since the days of Ghengis Khan, and it is difficult to imagine it without the caring stewardship of long-serving principal teacher Dennis Cartwright. It will be intriguing to see where the money saved on promoted posts eventually finds a home.

Unpromoted teachers like Derek Lindsay and Katrina Corrigan will have a wry smile at the suggestion that their working day may be extended to 5pm. These colleagues, and many more, are rarely out of school before that time, as they assiduously prepare for the next day's teaching. Such young people need the encouragement of a professional salary and a promotion structure which offers them real motivation for undertaking additional duties. Otherwise, we may blink and find that they have gone.

There is no doubt that more time is required to implement the plethora of initiatives on the ever-expanding national agenda. Joe Normal finds it difficult to understand how a 195 day year and 27.5 hour pupil week leaves no time for development work. Planned activity time, introduced after the dispute of the Eighties has been of limited value. It is particularly resented by those teachers who are "kept in" on one evening per week but turn out voluntarily on countless other occasions. A more flexible arrangement is required, which allows negotiation of hours at school level.

The bonanza has got to include an escape route for those who are demotivated and distressed. The Scottish Office claims that there are 100 ineffective headteachers, and any credible package has to include compassionate relief for these and other disillusioned teachers. There is no point in spending millions on pay structures and then complaining three years from now that these staff are still not doing the business.

There is a disconcerting feeling of deja vu about the whole affair. Leaks, rejections, outrage, threats, warnings, claims, and finally settlement; the annual pay round saps the energies of both sides and rarely satisfies all concerned.

If aliens do, as predicted, arrive in the Falkirk area during the next millennium, it will be interesting to find out how they pay their teachers.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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