Bells ringing for change sound hollow

6th January 2012 at 00:00

New year's resolutions can be important to individuals, from the teenagers in this week's Kids Talk (page 42) to young athletes aiming to reach new heights in our sports review (page 22). But resolutions on a national scale are required of our politicians.

One of the trickier ones on Education Secretary Michael Russell's list this year will surely be to address the "sell out" deal, as regards pay and conditions for supply teachers, which was cobbled together with Cosla and the EIS last spring (News Focus, page 10).

Something needs to be done to resolve a divisive and unfair pact reached in haste to avoid a teachers' strike on the eve of the Holyrood elections. None of the three sides in the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers covered themselves in glory - not the local authorities' body, Cosla, not the EIS as the main union, and not the Education Secretary.

Yes, he pulled an extra pound;15.3 million out of the hat at the last minute to avoid cuts to sick pay and reduce the short-term supply period on a new, lower rate of pay from eight days to five. But just how bad the deal remained has become glaringly evident as schools have struggled to find short-term cover for absent colleagues, since its implementation in August. Senior managers, including headteachers, are having to step into the breach - and that's before winter flu hits the classrooms. Things will get worse.

All sides are monitoring the agreement through the SNCT in an attempt to "identify and address any issues that might arise" - Cosla, on behalf of the councils; the EIS, which alienated many of its members in striking the deal, and the Government itself - and there is a real sense that the negotiators know they got it wrong.

"If the impact is that we have created a shortage of supply teachers, which means that classes are not being taught, then logic dictates that you revisit it," said EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith on Monday.

"There are certainly issues around supply," conceded a Scottish Government spokesman, who expected them to be "looking at it in the new year" (page 13). Well, now is the time to address the issues and put them right - a new year, a new start.

It's hard to assess the number of good teachers lost to the system in the meantime. No one records the number of supply teachers who leave the profession, but the individuals' stories are bitter and the costs in human terms and government waste are high.

The decision to train 300 additional teachers next year to meet a future rise in demand, announced by Mr Russell before Christmas, must be galling for those who have departed. But his call for leavers to return rings hollow in the circumstances.

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