Holyrood showdown

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
Dewar on collision course over 'politically driven, ill thought out and under resourced initiatives'

TEACHING UNIONS this week sent a warning shot across the bows of the new Scottish administration which will take office following the Holyrood elections in a fortnight's time.

As the Educational Institute of Scotland distanced itself further from the Government, the unions made clear that ministers would not be given a comfortable ride if they pursued existing policies.

The institute's relationship with the Government has been soured by threats to national bargaining, moves to performance pay, target-setting and what is seen as an endlessly reforming agenda.

The STUC in Glasgow this week provided a further forum for the unions to express their disenchantment with new Labour. Moira McCrossan, the EIS president, called for a halt to "politically driven, ill thought out and under-resourced initiatives".

But there is no sign of Labour relenting on the pace of change. The TES Scotland understands that Scottish Office officials are working on the assumption that an education Bill will be published before Christmas based largely on the Targeting Excellence White Paper launched in January - if Labour is elected.

The deadline for responses to the paper is today (Friday) but, as an earnest of the 'new style of politics' which all parties are pledged to take to Holyrood, the new Bill is likely to be based on pre-legislative consultation.

The unions remain less than impressed, however, even when the Secretary of State, speaking to the STUC on Monday, rammed home the message of the Government's generosity to education via the pound;1.3 billion from the comprehensive spending review.

Donald Dewar's references to "money for modernisation" and "resources in return for reform" underwhelmed the teaching unions. EIS delegates later refused to join in a standing ovation for Mr Dewar, although union officials said it was their tradition to remain seated.

Attacking initiative-overload, Ms McCrossan said: "Higher Still is not yet fully in place; we are in the process of reviewing the 5-14 curriculum and unpicking the damage done by years of driving through changes without proper planning or funding. Let us ensure that the current initiatives are working before we make further changes. And when we do, let it be with proper consultation and involvement of the professionals.

"Teachers are in favour of modernisation, of utilising new technology to the full, taking part in high-quality training and staff development, and working in partnership with all the stakeholders in education. But that partnership must be based on a genuine negotiation among equal partners."

Ms McCrossan was particularly withering about "misleading information and spurious comparisons" based on the school-by-school targets that are at the centre of the Government's "excellence agenda". She hinted at an alliance with parents to persuade MSPs to ditch this approach.

"Parents would rather that teachers' time was spent on teaching their child than on filling in forms in triplicate or sitting in meetings endlessly discussing spurious targets," Ms McCrossan said.

The congress went on to pass a hostile motion attacking the "Scottish anomaly" of higher tuition fees for students from other parts of the UK, but remitted another controversial motion on private funding to build schools.

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