Dead in the water?

30th June 2000 at 01:00
McCrone report hits the buffers as key players refuse to stand by crucial recommendations.

THE death of the McCrone report appears to have been signalled this week as some of the key players declared their wish to return to the drawing board and negotiate afresh.

A conference which brought all the parties together for the first time (page five) highlighted three distinct reactions to the inquiry's report, none of which flattered the findings. Some proposals were welcomed as acceptable but imprecise, others were rejected as unacceptable and a few were regarded as irrelevant or unrealistic.

The "package" which Professor Gavin McCrone urged should not be "cherry picked" therefore looks as if it is about to be comprehensively unstitched.

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, maintained a studied silence, even refusing to answer questions, in keeping with his pledge to make no instant pronouncements before studying the report and taking soundings.

Mr Galbraith, who is under pressure to outline how the proposals are to be funded, plans to hold separate bilateral talks with the unions and local authorities which will then be invited to join an implementation group under his chairmanship - described tartly by one conference participant as "an independent group chaired by the minister".

Professor McCrone's plea not to unravel the package was dismissed by Danny McCafferty, education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. "That assumes the report is flawless and cannot be improved on," M McCafferty told the Linlithgow conference, which was organised by the Scottish Forum for Modern Government. The report was no more than a basis for discussion.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, welcomed the report's recognition of the professional requirements of teachers.

But he said it represented no more than a committee wish list.

"Some wishes accord with ours, some do not," Mr Smith said. "It's a useful foundation on which to begin the construction of a package where the Government would play its part by funding it fully, the local authorities would honour it in spirit as well as to the letter and teachers would support it because it enhanced their professional standing."

Keir Bloomer, president of the Association of Directors of Education, said he was disappointed the report could not be accepted as a whole but there was no alternative to negotiations since many of the recommendations were imprecise, some would have to be fleshed out and others required more thought.

Mr Bloomer queried the realism of starting talks in August and finishing by December. This would require "a fleetness of foot that has not always been demonstrated in such negotiations over the past decade".

The report simply represented "work in progress", Mr Bloomer said, joining calls for ministers to show the colour of their money. "The worst possible outcome would be to put down an inadequate sum and then leave the authorities to find the rest, presumably from their education budgets."

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