Get your heads out of the sand and sign;Platform;Opinion

17th September 1999 at 01:00
PLATFORM The current pay deal is the last chance for unions to choose between the road ahead and the wilderness, says Ross Martin

IT WON'T have escaped the notice of teachers across Scotland that their union representatives have not at any time argued against

the principles of the money-for-

modernisation deal which was born out of the Millennium Review and is now on the table.

Indeed, during the last round of discussions before the Scottish elections, the unions agreed the "final" paper line by line. And while they noted some reservations about the mechanics of the deal, we reached the point where they were able to say that "there are no points of principle left between us".

The latest talks, to tidy up the detail of implementation, did, I understand, do just that. Amendments were made to the range of pay increases (in particular for existing principal teachers), the detail of the new professional leadership scale was fleshed out and the "social inclusion" hours were inserted into the current annual total. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities met every one of the unions' concerns.

While it is recognised that there will need to be a lot of work in the run-up to implementation, our guiding principles of "recruit, retain and reward" have been embodied in an imaginative package of measures designed to attack much of the grumbling discontent that teachers, quite rightly, want addressed.

So why has a deal not been signed? On the last day of our discussions earlier this year, after 18 continuous hours of negotiation, when asked to sign up to what we had agreed would be the "final offer" and knowing that we had agreement on every single line of the document, the unions abrogated their responsibility to their members. They said that they "didn't know" whether they could put their signatures to the paper, and walked away from the table amid utter confusion.

At that moment it looked as if this historic chance to modernise the teaching profession with the backing of significant sums of money was lost. The unions could not tell us what else we had to do. They appeared paralysed by internal conflict and external strife.

Individual union members must now show their so-called leaderships that they want progress. Teachers want to end the struggle in their class, not embark on the class struggle with government that the coterie of Trots and Nats in the Educational Institute of Scotland executive seems determined to drag them into.

The world has moved on apace since the seventies and eighties but the union reps haven't modified either their attitudes or their tactics, moving further away from their memberships than ever. They allowed their dewy eyed, personal romanticism for the creation of the Scottish Parliament (and the forlorn hope that it would mean a continuation of the cosy, consensual status quo) to cloud their political and professional judgment.

This has resulted in the unions playing a dangerous game of deception, of peddling half-truths and innuendo to cover up their own inability properly to represent the interests of their members. In addition, the inter-union battle for members has resulted in the truth becoming, as usual, the first casualty of this war of words.

It is time for the unions to face reality and face up to their responsibilities on behalf of hard-working members. Everybody agrees that teachers aren't paid enough. We all know that there is far too much top-down planning.

It is accepted that classes are too big and that teachers need regular opportunities to take a step back from the chalkface. The primary and special sectors deserve a better deal. The status of the profession needs a boost, and a system to reward good classroom teachers without "promoting" them behind a desk must be put in place.

The management offer touches all of these bases. Smaller class sizes, less class contact time, shorter scales, an end to the promotional logjam and significant pay rises. No increase in working hours, no reduction in holidays, no increase in workload.

And what is expected in return? More flexible working practices, a formalised commitment to educating the "whole" pupil through the social inclusion agenda (surely that's why we all became teachers) and the introduction of sharper quality assurance systems. All measures designed to help in the drive to raise standards.

And the context for this offer? The biggest ever investment in schools is under way. A massive capital programme, enhancing the education environment in every corner of the country. The introduction of classroom assistants to reduce teacher workload. Huge new sums of money through the Excellence Fund for specific "raising standards" initiatives. New Opportunities Fund money to reinvigorate extracurricular activity, which was wiped out during the 1980s strike.

This is the first real test of the devolution settlement. How can a Scottish solution to a Scottish problem be designed within a UK context? Education may be a devolved matter but the modernisation of the public sector across the whole of the United Kingdom, financed by the Chancellor's comprehensive spending review, is, to coin a phrase, the bigger picture.

What is the point in having a national negotiating body that can't negotiate? Why should education authorities continue to run schools if they can't even set salary levels for teachers? If the current system puts Scottish teachers behind English colleagues, the system itself must be questioned.

Rejection of this negotiated settlement means a poorer deal will be imposed farther down the line. If the unions don't believe that government (at all levels) is serious about the modernisation of education their grasp of reality is, shall we say, light.

Ross Martin led the management side in the teachers' pay and conditions negotiations until May this year.

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