Conflict rises over unqualified cover staff
Primary teachers in Renfrewshire are to be balloted on possible industrial action over council plans to cover so-called "McCrone time" with non-qualified teaching staff.
The decision to hold an indicative ballot reflects mounting opposition to the proposals to bring in part-time, non-qualified staff for the 2.5 hours per week of non-class contact time that teachers are given for lesson preparation.
The Educational Institute of Scotland is urging teachers to vote against the proposed changes, saying they will dilute the quality of education.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS, said: "This really is the thin edge of the wedge and would set a very dangerous precedent where councils put delivering education on the cheap ahead of providing a high-quality learning and teaching experience for all young children."
In a sign of an escalation in the dispute, parents are threatening to withdraw their children from the pilot schools where part-time staff are to be introduced.
Stephen Wright, acting chair of Renfrewshire Parent Council Forum, warned of a campaign of direct action by parents.
"It's very likely that parents will boycott the schools involved in the pilot if these plans go ahead," he said.
"Parents are saying that they will take out their children for the duration of the time that the non-qualified staff are at the school."
The council's move would save it pound;1.1 million per year, contributing to the authority's requirement to save pound;75m over three years.
But Mr Wright said he was unaware of any parent or teacher in the area who supported the plans. Opposition was "vociferous" and parents were blaming the council for a "complete absence of consultation".
A demonstration against the proposals is planned for February 19, Mr Wright said.
However, Lorraine Cameron, convener of Renfrewshire Council's education policy board, said: "There's no evidence to suggest that there is any widespread move to take children out of school."
Individuals or organisations had the right to criticise any policy but "clearly we wouldn't want to see children's education disrupted", she said.
The primary pupil week in Renfrewshire is 25 hours and parents had a duty to ensure their child attended school during this time. Parents would therefore not be able to withdraw their child for 2.5 hours, she said.
Councillor Cameron stressed that the council's aim in introducing the non- qualified staff was to deliver specialist experience in areas such as healthy lifestyles and getting children involved in sport and culture.
Meanwhile, at national level, talks between the teachers' side and local and national government representatives are understood to have encountered a number of sticking points ahead of next week's meeting of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers.
The EIS and Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association are understood to be particularly concerned at proposals by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to cut the pay scale for supply teachers to six-sevenths of point one of the teachers' main grade scale for the first 15 days of every placement. Any supply contract lasting more than 15 days would continue to be paid at the relevant stage of the pay scale.
Proposals to change teachers' sick pay - a cut from the current entitlement of 100 per cent pay for the first six months to 90 per cent from day one of the first six months - is also proving a sticking point.
A major issue has also emerged over how councils can prove they have taken on the 2,800 new teachers promised under the November CoslaScottish Government deal.
Unions are understood to be concerned at councils' inability to state how many teachers they currently employ, leaving them to question how they can monitor progress in providing additional posts.
- Original headline: Conflict rises over use of unqualified cover staff