Grasp the nettle

16th June 2000 at 01:00
SOME primary teachers foresee disaster in revamped national tests. Some in secondary regard the problems with Higher Still as insurmountable. Both groups had their say at the annual meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland (pages four and five). But the really pressing issue unites teachers from all school sectors, and whereas other controversies have been well ventilated, the McCrone report is fresh off the press.

It was important for everyone - the Education Minister, the local authority employers and the 50,000-plus teaching force - to gauge the initial reaction of EIS activists since, optimistically, they had themselves been tapping first opinions in their own staffrooms.

The debate was predictable - passionate but well argued. The leadership secured the freedom of manoeuvre it needed. Opponents were told that they and the rest of the membership wuld have the final say in a ballot once the negotiations promised by Sam Galbraith are concluded.

To rule out McCrone now would have been folly. It would have rendered the EIS powerless in the summer's discussions and with the wider public. Parents will need careful wooing if they are to be persuaded that the disadvantages of McCrone outweigh the benefits to teachers and the opportunity of a settled school structure.

The EIS and other unions should concentrate on specific problems arising from the McCrone recommendations. Teachers are worried about how the hours in the week would stack up. Would they enjoy even less professional autonomy than at present? Then there are the anomalies which close scrutiny has already thrown up. One concerns deputy heads in small secondaries who will be worse off than had they stayed assistant head in a bigger school.

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