THE post-McCrone negotiations got under way in earnest this week as five groups started work on what will be a weekly basis until the end of the year. They will deal with what were described as the core issues of the McCrone report covering teachers' conditions, future negotiating machinery, pay and grading, career progression and support staff.
The five were set up at the first meeting of the implementation group last Thursday, which was chaired by Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister. It will meet at least once a month and the aim remains to reach agreement by the end of December so a start can be made on applying its terms from next April.
Mr Galbraith has already said the groups face "a demanding and sometimes complex workload". So far, however, the atmosphere has been "extremely constructive, positive and open", according to Mike Ewart, the head of the schools group in the Scottish Executive Education Department, who is one of two senior officials on the main group. There had been none of the confrontation experienced in the past, but he acknowledged that to keep to the timescale would require all parties to show "a degree of discipline".
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, who is also on the group, said they shared the ambition of trying to reach a conclusion which the union could put to its members in a ballot. But it would be up to the executive council to decide whether the vote should be accompanied by a recommendation to accept any deal or not.
Mr Smith and Malcolm Maciver, the ES salaries convener who is its other representative on the implementation group, will have to heed whatever decisions are taken by the union's special general meeting on McCrone, which meets in Dundee on September 30. But Mr Smith said: "Nobody is digging trenches and we are single-mindedly concentrating on a positive outcome."
Danny McCafferty, education leader of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said last week's meeting had agreed there must be "brutal honesty and trust" if the negotiations are to get anywhere.
He felt there was now "a genuine feeling that we have got to find a solution". Cosla, too, would consult its members in the 32 education authorities before confirming whether any deal was acceptable, he revealed.
David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, who is another group member, aligned himself with the expressions of goodwill but warned about "the scale of the task that lies ahead against the background of a profession that is not very enamoured of what's going on at the moment".
Mr Smith reiterated the unions' view that funding of the settlement remains a critical issue.
The composition of the five sub-groups, including the chairmanships, was left to themselves, although the main group agreed each should have two representatives from the Executive, four from Cosla and six from the unions. Councillor McCafferty said signs of progress were already evident in that "a few months ago we would have spent our time squabbling over who should chair the sub-groups".