The answer must be yes

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Teachers will surely not turn their backs on the deal that was finalised last Friday. Some may be prepared to vote "yes" in a union ballot simply out of mental exhaustion: the attempts to modernise pay and conditions go back nine years. Indecision fuelling staffroom discontent and individual stress cannot go on for ever.

But the package deserves more thoroughgoing endorsement. Its predecessor, the result of Sir Peter Main's inquiry in the wake of a two-year dispute, was very much an attempt to end serious disruption in schools. The McCrone inquiry, though a follow-up to the failed Millennium Review, was able to take a more considered long-term view of the profession. It was then subject to intense scrutiny by groups representing teachers, their employers and the Executive. Everyone had to compromise. That is the essence of an agreed package as opposed to an imposed one.

Stories of teachers flooding north are premature, but for the first time in years the Scottish profession looks better off than its English counterpart. The salaries settlement, albeit over three years rather than the two sought by the unions and anagement, represents a significant advance. The trick will be to maintain the advantage: past inquiries brought leaps followed by years of deepening troughs.

Opposition to the agreement will focus on supposedly longer hours and poorer conditions. In practice, the overwhelming hard-working majority of teachers will be at no disadvantage. Devising a programme of continual professional development and recognising that preparation of lessons and assessment cannot be left to the lottery of odd hours out of the classroom are part of a long overdue overhaul. Jack McConnell himself has recalled from his maths teaching days the cynicism attached to so-called "planned activity time", an invention of Main.

Professional development ought to be at the heart of the new programme. It should show that the teacher is more than a skilled technician. It recognises that change is inevitable throughout one's career. It opens the way to chartered status and promotion. Resourced as it ought to be, it will be very expensive, and honouring commitment to it will be a long-term test for the Executive and education authorities.


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