A time for realism;Leading Article;Opinion;News and opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
IT IS NEVER good for a trade union to play off the back foot, but that is what the Educational Institute of Scotland is having to do in defending the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee for teachers' pay and conditions. The institute's submission to the Scottish Executive is right on one point: the abolition of the committee is being taken for granted even though it is technically only a proposal. The Parliament is assumed to have voted for abolition, but it has not - yet.

In reality the SJNC is doomed and that is why the EIS is left fighting a forlorn defence. The Executive is determined on abolition. Local authorities have been frustrated in attempts to move the committee. The recent secondary headteachers' conference told Sam Galbraith, the education minister, to get rid of a body from which it has been excluded. Only the EIS valiantly mans the barricades.

Yet its evidence is unconvincing. Teachers' salaries in Scotland have been allowed to fall behind those south of the border - marginally so, but the effect becomes cumulative over the years. No one realistically believes that the parts of the teachers' contract worth preserving need the SJNC. The arrival of the Parliament ensures that any assault would be vigorously debated by opposition parties.

On the failure of the millennium review the EIS says, don't blame the SJNC. The fault was the management's. Well, maybe. But the Executive has become almost as annoyed as the education authorities at the inability of teachers' representatives to convince their members that promotion structures and conditions of service must be modernised, as they have been in almost every other walk of life. The SJNC has failed to deliver. The only debate is on what should replace it, and the realists in the EIS hierarchy, no less than the McCrone committee, will be turning their attention to that.

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