Councils shuffle the millennium pack

14th May 1999 at 01:00
A THIRD of Scotland's education conveners have disappeared from the scene, voluntarily and involuntarily, as a result of last week's council elections. This could have significant repercussions for the "millennium" negotiations with the teaching unions, and therefore on the outcome of the talks.

As attention focused on the impact of tuition fees on the coalition talks between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the sea change among the education authorities has gone almost unnoticed.

Although union opposition is mounting to the current offer, one of the most seasoned council figures does not believe the election results will change the management side's approach.

"We have gone too far down the road for there to be a big difference," Tom Farrell, education convener in East Ayrshire, says. "The areas of division are not really all that great."

But there is growing evidence that headteachers, key figures in implementing the authorities' plans, are cool if not hostile - particularly to the overhaul of middle management in secondary schools. Some directors of education are also known to have doubts, one suggesting privately that the shake-up of secondary management should be piloted first since it is so complex and the consequences unclear.

The heads' panel of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association expressed its opposition over the weekend (page four). And Nigel Lawrie, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said the proposals are unlikely to work if heads are unconvinced.

Dr Lawrie, head of Port Glasgow High, said: "We are concerned about the position as it affects those in middle management. It doesn't so much matter whether you call them principal teachers or professional leaders, so long as the tasks are carried out and there is accountability. If you look at Higher Still, it is the principal teachers who are the movers and shakers."

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, hoped that the new leaders would bring "a fresh eye to the issues and don't come with the same baggage as the previous incumbents".

Mr Smith said: "This doesn't mean we want to go back to square one or spin out these talks to infinity. But there are some big issues such as school management restructuring, composite class sizes, the amount of hours worked and how they are to be controlled and limited. It's not just a matter of fine-tuning."

The EIS will continue to press for a management response to its 8 per cent "no strings" pay claim which it believes is not precluded by the wider talks. But the management side is not expected to be reconstituted until the middle of next month and may want time to consider all the issues afresh.

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