THE leadership of the Educational Institute of Scotland appears to be pulling out the stops to head off the clamour for a boycott of the Higher Still programme.
The TES Scotland understands that the union's key finance and general purposes committee opted last Friday to seek further clarification of the Government's latest concessions before deciding on whether to make any recommendation to the EIS executive council on November 20.
The committee meets again today (Friday) and will clearly need to have further reassurances from the Education Minister. Helen Liddell has agreed to key demands for phasing in the new Higher and setting up a liaison group to oversee implementation.
But initial EIS reaction suggests these moves had not won over the sceptics who insist that resources, training and materials are some way short of adequate. The executive of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, which starts balloting its members on a boycott next Tuesday, has also agreed unanimously that "a number of very serious concerns have not yet been resolved".
The EIS leadership now faces the difficulty that it has a mandate for a boycott, supported by 86 per cent of its members who voted, but is unlikely to be able to wring any more concessions out of Mrs Liddell who is said to be not as averse to becoming involved in a scrap with the unions as was Brian Wilson, her predecessor.
She has already said that discussions in the liaison group, which could give the EIS a crucial influence over events, must not be hampered by a boycott.
The union's executive council will have to decide whether the Government's moves to date are significant enough to persuade it to take the controversial step of overturning an instruction from the annual meeting. Ronnie Smith, the EIS's general secretary, said none the less that "the executive council is the decision-making body of the EIS between annual general meetings".
Although the vote was resounding, the turnout was only 61 per cent of the 23,000 teachers and lecturers entitled to vote, indicating that only half of the eligible members want to sustain a boycott. Some insiders suggest the 40 per cent who did not turn out represented "the loyalty vote": they did not believe in a boycott but preferred not to step out of line.
Elizabeth Maginnis, education convener of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, says the information from its advisers, through headteachers across the country, is that schools are ready to begin Higher Still next August. "Any difficulties are at the margins," Mrs Maginnis said.
George Ross, secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said the main concerns were over English and art and design. Most subject departments were ready and eager to launch the new Highers, Mr Ross said.
But he warned: "There is no point in forcing into place something that teachers feel is not going to be a quality experience."
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