A nobbled inquiry?;Leading Article

1st October 1999 at 01:00
One of Margaret Thatcher's first rages as Prime Minister was at the Clegg inquiry, which came up with a teachers' award far beyond what she thought the country could afford, or felt a self-absorbed profession deserved. She was never again keen on "independent" commissions and accepted the Main inquiry with the greatest reluctance as the only way to break the long dispute of the mid-eighties.

Any committee gets up its own head of steam, and may come up with findings unwelcome to the Government. Sir Stewart Sutherland's findings on the care of the elderly have, it appears, been quietly buried by a Health Secretary alarmed at their cost. Andrew Cubie and his team may come up with ideas on student finance whose impact on the coalition, being independent, they can safely ignore.

But the new committee on teachers' pay and conditions, chaired by Gavin McCrone, is creating greater suspicion in the unions than among those who will foot the bill. Its two advisers are a director of education and the head of the inspectorate. This raises questions of independence, at least in the minds of teachers who believe that officialdom is out to get its way by hook or by crook. They may also feel that the committee has been asked to start from the point at which the management had to concede defeat after the union ballots.

At the SNP conference (page six) Sam Galbraith was made the ogre, allegedly spoiling for a fight. There is no indication that the minister wants to discomfit teachers. Government policy depends too much on their cooperation. Yet his scope for manoeuvre is limited, just as Professor McCrone and his colleagues have to take account of national spending limits. In the end, teachers will probably again have to balance the pros and cons of an offer.

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