Learning reps in clash over role

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Expert warns authorities: 'Ignore teachers' professional development needs at your peril', reports Elizabeth Buie

An expert on professional development has suggested that education authorities might end up in court if they continue to ignore teachers' professional needs.

But education directors have hit back, denying they are breaking either the spirit or the letter of the teachers' agreement.

The clash is over the role of Educational Institute of Scotland learning representatives and the time off they are given to carry out their job of helping teachers with their CPD.

In an independent evaluation of the system, Alex Alexandrou, chair of the International Professional Development Association, warns that, if the EIS fails to win the hearts and minds of authorities, headteachers and CPD co-ordinators by persuasive means, then it must consider legal action as a last resort.

"The law is clearly on the side of the EIS and the LRs and a victory at an employment tribunal will not only set a legal precedent but send a message that the institute is serious about its commitment to its LR scheme and the professional development of teachers," he says.

Jack Barnett, the EIS's past president, said the union would have to look very closely at the situation before it went down the route of legal action. "It would be extremely unfortunate if we had to go down that line but it would have to be considered if we hit the blocks," he said.

However, John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said his members supported time off for learning representatives, and he refuted suggestions in the report that authorities were taking an "adversarial" approach to the teachers' agreement. Mr Stodter noted that the report itself drew attention to the lack of clarity over the role of the representatives, and the breakdown in communication between the EIS and its own members.

"The role of learning representatives overlaps with that of school and authority CPD personnel and that adds to the confusion," he added.

Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, acknowledged that "there is still a considerable amount of work to be done at local authority and school level to promote the work of learning representatives and their key role in supporting CPD."

The report highlights the value of LRs in promoting teachers' ongoing professional development and reflective practice.

Learning representatives were set up by the EIS in the wake of the McCrone inquiry's damning attack on the inadequacy of CPD provision. They have to take an accredited Masters level module in a programme set up by the institute and Paisley University.

The EIS's initial objective was to have 50 LRs in its 32 local associations, and its long-term aim is to have one in every school and college.

But Mr Alexandrou concludes that there is evidence of a "non-connection"

between the LRs and local authorities, school managements and CPD co-ordinators who look on the union activists as a threat to their jobs.

His report suggests this is partly due to "historical adversarial relationships between the EIS and employers." It pointed to "a lack of trust and understanding of who and what LRs are and do among local authorities, CPD co-ordinators and headteachers, and a continuing scepticism about the CPD benefits of the agreement among teachers."

Mr Alexandrou attributes the low profile of LRs among union members to the fact that new activists are only now getting to grips with their role and responsibilities as LRs, but also to the "cynicism with which teachers have greeted the new CPD developments, particularly chartered teacher status".

Mr Alexandrou suggests the union should run a roadshow for all education directors and headteachers to explain the role and responsibilities of LRs and to inform them of their legal obligations under the Employment Act 2002. It should also reassure CPD co-ordinators that LRs are not a threat and raise awareness among its own members.

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