Falsehoods will not win anybody's trust;Platform;Opinion

24th September 1999 at 01:00
Malcolm Maciver of the EIS replies to Ross Martin and corrects his picture of the pay and conditions negotiations.

Ross Martin is the individual who provided many of us with cause for the loudest celebration on the evening of May 6 this year - second only perhaps to the Michael Portillo result two years earlier. So it is interesting to note ow comfortable Mr Martin now appears to be in a dream world of his own creation (TESS last week).

For a start, I didn't realise that he led the management side of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee until May of this year. I thought that seat had been occupied by Elizabeth Maginnis. Perhaps Mr Martin did win Falkirk West after all.

It is maybe worth noting at this stage that to my recollection, throughout the period of recent SJNC negotiations Mr Martin made only two contributions. He was very much in the shadows and only lifted his head above the parapet to talk to the press.

I would not wish to dwell on Mr Martin's plethora of inaccurate, misleading and downright false statements. But I will attempt to set the record straight.

Mr Martin asserts that the final offer was agreed with the unions. FALSE.

The document remained an "offer" from the management side which contained, and still contains, the four major areas of disagreement. These are composite classes, control of working hours, professional leadership and pay levels.

The authorities met every one of the unions' concerns. FALSE. At the end of June 1999 the leading negotiators from the management side were given a presentation which highlighted the main areas of difference. Although the management side said it "would take our concerns on board", there is little evidence this happened.

Mr Martin speaks of 18 hours of continuous negotiation in March. FALSE. For nearly 17 of those hours the management side was ensconced on its own, attempting to put together what we later discovered to be its final offer.

The union representatives have moved further away from their memberships than ever, Mr Martin states. FALSE. Just have a look at the result of the ballot on the education authorities' offer.

Classes are too big. TRUE. But why on earth, Mr Martin, do you support an offer which will increase composite class sizes from 25 to 30, affecting over 100,000 youngsters?

However, any further dialogue will involve individuals in both the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Executive. Mr Martin is not a member of the Scottish Parliament and is no longer a councillor. Therefore, I have to say, with the deepest possible regret I can muster, that Mr Martin is unlikely to be involved in talks about the future of Scottish education.

Now that teachers have voted to reject the COSLA offer, the debate must turn to how we move forward. There is a need to establish a climate of trust. I recognise that will not be easy, given the events of the last few weeks. Settling this year's pay claim in a way that satisfies all parties would be a significant step in the right direction. In the longer term, establishing the basis on how change is implemented will be critical.

The choice is clear - it can be done on the basis of consensus and agreement or imposition and diktat. The latter will not deliver the educational progress everybody wants.

It is clear that significant elements of those who are, nominally at least, part of the management side have real reservations about the offer. Many in the directorate do not believe the issue of how schools are to be managed has been effectively addressed. It is now time for those off the record views to go on the record. Many councillors do not believe that increasing composite classes from 25 to 30 is educationally sound or will have the support of parents.

It is also time that HMI conveyed to their political masters the message they have been giving to senior school staff about the implementation of Higher Still - that the role of the principal teacher is pivotal.

Since August schools have been implementing the most significant post-16 development in a generation. Bedding it in will take a number of years. Yet under the terms of the COSLA offer, the "pivotal" principal teacher structure will be dismantled from August 2000.

There is a certain irony here. If those members of the directorate, councillors and HMI had been present at the negotiations that have taken place, I suspect they would have found themselves in common accord with the teachers.

So the real challenge now rests with the Scottish Executive and Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister.

When the Scottish people voted to establish the Scottish Parliament, they had been promised a whole new dynamic in government, which would value their views. People now expect the Scottish Executive to show leadership in embracing this new political culture. The overwhelming rejection of the COSLA offer by those directly involved in delivering education at school level presents the Executive with the first significant policy challenge.

They can choose between two possible responses. One will take us into a new political structure, where mature and willing groups can arrive at consensus. The other will confirm that the old order still rules and promises remain only empty rhetoric.

The EIS is committed to reaching a consensus with local and national government which will sustain and enhance educational standards and quality in schools. Is the Scottish Executive sufficiently mature and confident of its structures and policy making machinery to meet that challenge?

Malcolm Maciver is salaries and conditions convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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