A novice's guide to the zero sum game

25th February 2000 at 00:00
An open letter to Gavin McCrone and his committee

THANK you for your letter inviting submissions. The accompanying booklet gave the impression that logic, reason, and justice will be the main factors in arriving at your conclusions. We all know that this is not the case.

The bottom line is filthy lucre. Globally little extra new money will be available for teachers' pay. Rather, Paul's rise will be Peter's cut - "a zero sum game" in today's jargon. Any perceptible increase for some teachers will be at the expense of their colleagues and the balance will be between better pay or a worse way of life.

Management-speak often characterises problems as opportunities. Here are three severe opportunities and possible solutions.

First, the press currently carries headlines about commerce offering "golden hellos" to debt-ridden graduates in addition to a high starting salary, and apparently a chartered accountant could expect a starting salary of pound;25,000. A similar figure for teachers will not be recommended. Looking after the wealth of parents is much more important than looking after the education of their children.

However, all parties recognise a looming problem, teacher shortage. Unless the starting salary is significantly increased and the format of the salary scale(s) altered today's minor problems will grow and become very expensive to fix.

There seems to be a growing trend for entrants to teaching to treat the probation period as a time when they put the job on probation. If it does not shape up something else in the market will. This open market model does not, however, work both ways: few seek shelter from the storms of commerce and industry, and those that do are usually at the other end of the age spectrum.

There are two solutions to this problem. The obvious one will of course be dismissed on grounds of cost. Which leaves the "virtual solution" - raise the starting salary by pound;2,000, fix the top of the new pay scale for unpromoted teachers at pound;35,000 and create a new promoted structure with associated pay scales. Cost would be controlled by inserting a bar at a financially determined point on the unpromoted scale. The number of teachers advancing beyond the bar would be financially determined by the same formula that fixed the position of the bar.

This wheeze need not cost any money and in fact if you set the bar low enough it could even reduce the pay bill, while allowing the limited predetermined number that go beyond the bar on the basic scale to be cited as evidence of "rewarding the classroom teacher" .

There would be some opposition from the usual whingers but a docile "on-message" leadership in the Educational Institute of Scotland would dissipate this. Also, if the package was talked up sufficiently and the existence of the limiting formula hidden by aggressively asserting that progression beyond the bar was merit based, dissent would be marinalised. At the same time the other scales would be tweaked and conditions of service for all grades "modernised". Changes to conditions of service are not just an opportunity for teacher bashers to crawl out of the woodwork. They also present a major moneysaving opportunity .

The second "opportunity" concerns promoted posts. Their number is heavily weighted to the secondary sector; so this might appear to be the place for rationalisation savings. Proceed cautiously in the area of principal teacher (subject) despite the calls for abolition of the post because PTs are the ones that ensure the weans learn and pass exams, the reason their parents send them to school. Unless there is a clearly identifiable person responsible for the teaching of a subject and the associated administration then the heidie will have no one to shout at. A convenient scapegoat is as welcome as a real solution when things go wrong.

Yet there may be some scope for savings. The public are not sympathetic to the idea that the PT (English) is paid the same as the PT (X) and that unease turns to incredulity when they realise that the "important" department is three times the size of the "unimportant" department. A tinkering minimalist solution would be to modify the PT scale to reflect these concerns, but a faculty structure would save more money. This could mean 19 departments restructured as eight faculties with nine or 10 teachers.

The faculty heads would have more status and pay than a PT. They could even replace assistant heads and be paid accordingly. A faculty head scale could adjust pay according to roll. Each faculty might have two posts like that of assistant principal teacher.

The third area for change is in guidance. It has long been unclear why there are both PT and APT (guidance) since their workload and responsibilities are not significantly different. Abolishing the distinction and simply having the post of guidance teacher would make sense. The guidance structure could be abolished or it could be paid for in a different way. The system has served its previous purpose of increasing the number of promoted posts, so it should go, just as the designated schools payment disappeared when it was no longer needed.

Responsibility for guidance and social inclusion should be handed over to social workers. In the words of a retired HMI,"we need to do less, better".

One last piece of advice. Don't worry too much about those parts of your report that lack detail. That nice Executive man at your elbow will help you out. In any case, when delivered your report will be the subject of much horse-trading by the usual suspects in, what can only be hoped, is a smoke-filled room.

Brian Magill

(assistant principal teacher)

The Sweeney,

ScotlandPlus, page six In case you didn't know already, our staffroom insider reveals the answers to the three big questions on teacher pay

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