AT THIS time of year a young teacher's thoughts (and those of older colleagues) usually turn to the annual pay award. For once attention is diverted elsewhere. This year's negotiations, still to get under way, have been overshadowed by the the McCrone inquiry, whose report is due out next month. Not that a likely pay deal for this year of about 2.5 per cent (page one) will pass unnoticed. Inadequate as it will inevitably be viewed, it will still be a bird in the hand.
No one knows whether McCrone will bring forth two from the bush. Certainly a mere doubling of this year's award would still not satisfy teacher aspirations, which have been raised because of the very existence of the inquiry. They will be looking towards the kind of salaries at which ministers from time to time hint as being deserved by professionals.
The problem will come, of course, in the conditions and restrictions attached and any new provisions for hours, hlidays and so forth. Then there is the whole question of whether the Executive would be able to fund a package, for the local authorities themselves certainly could not.
South of the border, the National Union of Teachers' conference, rarely an edifying spectacle, capped its rudeness to Estelle Morris, an education minister and one of its own members, with a better argued denunciation of performance-related pay. Industrial action is a possibility, though the wisdom of that when teachers are talking up their own professionalism must be debatable. The scheme for rewarding a select cadre, chosen partly on pupils' test results, is particularly hamfisted. Payment by results was ridiculed out of existence in high Victorian times.
Nothing similar is so far planned in Scotland but the lesson for McCrone and the Executive is clear: changes to a system that needs changed must pass the first tests of practicality and fairness.