The fundamental role of advisers has been recognised by the Education Minister yet they remain a species under threat, says Tommy Doherty.
Spare a thought for a section of the teaching force that won't see a penny extra in their salaries next month. Advisers, along with psychologists and music instructors, were left out of the post-McCrone settlement.
Yet every adviser has been a practising teacher, promoted to posts of significant responsibility (in many cases headteacher), recognised as an exemplary practitioner and made an adviser to support and develop others by dint of experience, quality and expertise.
Employed as a member of the authority's teaching force, and subject to being asked to undertake teaching duties as required by the director of education (which is happening just now in some parts of Scotland), an adviser works a longer year with a leave entitlement of roughly half that of a teacher in a school. Their contracted working week is already 35 hours, although I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't work considerably longer.
Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, in his talk to the advisers' conference on March 3, affirmed his appreciation of the fundamental part advisers play in supporting developments in schools and in leading innovation and improvements. He cited one recently inspected authority where HMI had castigated the lack of a permanent advisory staff.
Since delegates were convinced of Mr McConnell's sincerity, what result can we expect from discussions due to start soon on the position of advisers and others? First, while there is going to be a move towards local bargaining on salaries and conditions, it is important that, in advance, national post-McCrone scales should be established for advisory staff. Second, the Association of Education Advisers in Scotland should be represented at the negotiations. Roderick MacKenzie, its president, has already approached the minister and awaits a reply.
Exclusion of the AEAS would send a worrying message because advisers feel, with good reason, that their position has deteriorated over the past decade relative to other groups. Bodies like the headteachers' associations have established their position in negotiating forums, and things have looked up considerably fo their members over the same period.
The erosion of our position began in earnest in the late eighties and there was a sustained assault on their salaries and status until the mid-nineties, continued by a number of the councils created in 1996. As numbers decreased, so did interest and support by the professional associations.
Today advisers are a species under threat. Not only is there a real possibility that a satisfactory McCrone settlement will not be achieved but another agenda, first devised in 1996, will start to roll out, that of ending the link between advisers and teachers once and for all. Advisers would then move to local government conditions of employment.
Advisers don't want to end the link. Their commitment is to the work of schools and they should not be dislocated from that. Ask teachers in schools. Compare their experiences in authorities that have advisers with those that don't and gauge the value of adviser support. Read the comments of HMI and see what conclusion should be drawn.
How far adrift are advisers' salaries? A TES Scotland article (March 2) compared their salaries over 10 years with groups of previously similar earning power - primary headteachers and secondary depute heads, both at the top of their scale. Even before the McCrone increase both these groups were being paid considerably more than advisers. McCrone will widen the gap and that is clearly unacceptable.
Advisers face worrying anomalies. An experienced primary adviser who had previously been a headteacher would now be paid significantly less than if they had stayed put. A secondary specialist adviser who had been an assistant head would struggle to earn as much as by having stayed in the classroom. Comments about seconded colleagues being paid more than permanent, experienced staff are no exaggeration and could become more common.
That would be disastrous. What is needed is restoration of previous analogues, perhaps on a scale to reflect experience in the post so that authorities can recruit the quality of staff to take forward the minister's partnership vision. Anything less and the prospects for permanent advisory staff would be bleak.
Tommy Doherty is a member of the AEAS executive but writes in a personal capacity.