The fate of collective bargaining between teachers and education authorities now rests on the outcome of the general election.
Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, surprised listeners to BBC Radio Scotland last Friday by announcing his proposal for a review body that would spell the end of negotiated pay deals. Although it had been expected that this would form part of the White Paper on education to be published around the end of the month, Mr Forsyth succeeded in stealing his customary march on his opponents.
He couched his reasons in terms of the need to raise the status of teachers by setting up an independent body "able to meet the substantial demands that are placed upon them". But he also raised the spectre of performance-related pay for class teachers, which has met resistance even from the Professional Association of Teachers.
The Government has been urging such a step, so far without success, on the School Teachers' Review Body which has been adjudicating pay south of the border since 1992. Mr Forsyth maintains, however, that outstanding teachers and those who work in tough schools should be rewarded.
"We should have a system of pay and conditions which is assessed objectively," Mr Forsyth told listeners in a swipe at the dominance of the Educational Institute of Scotland. The refusal of the EIS to bargain conditions against pay has been a particular complaint of the management side on the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, whose 15-year existence would come to an end if the Conservatives are returned to power.
The political parties have joined to denounce the move. Helen Liddell, Labour's spokeswoman, said there night be a case for a one-off review such as the Main inquiry that followed the 1984-86 strikes - but only if both sides agreed. She could see "no argument for removing the present arrangements, although nothing is written in stone".
Elizabeth Maginnis, convener of the management side, contented herself with a broad denunciation of Mr Forsyth's "cost-cutting, pre-election gimmick designed purely to keep himself in the headlines". Mrs Maginnis added: "The SJNC has offered important safeguards, for example, a limit on class sizes, which a pay review body could no longer guarantee."
Mrs Maginnis was, however, much more robust in May when she told the annual conference of primary heads that it was "bloody ludicrous that Scottish education is lumbered with conditions of service appropriate to 20 years ago".
The SJNC will meet next Thursday to take stock.
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