Little local difficulties

4th May 2001 at 01:00
A teaching profession for the 21st century. The package which brought Scottish teachers long-awaited pay rises has shocked unions south of the border into unifying. But on the ground it could prove problematic. Nic Barnard reports.

THE first pay cheques arrived last week.

As they were 10 per cent fatter than usual, they put a rosy glow on the cheeks and a healthy bulge in the wallets of Scottish teachers who have long felt hard done-by financially in comparison with English counterparts.

There is more to come, too, in the bright, sunlit uplands of post-McCrone, post-devolution Scotland; another 12 per cent pay rise; a 35-hour week, with no weaselly opt-out clauses; a cap on teaching hours, with guaranteed marking and preparation time; the right to high-quality training.

Best of all, there is the chance for a classroom teacher to earn pound;35,000 without performance-related pay by 2009. No wonder English teachers want their share.

It's a matter of some amusement to Scots that the English are suddenly paying so much attention to industrial relations north of the border. They never seemed that interested when Scottish pay was falling behind. Scottish teachers are now paid, on average, 5 per cent less.

But it was the McCrone inquiry, which delivered all the above in Scotland, that persuaded English classroom unions to join together for the first time to demand a similar deal in England.

And there is something miraculous about it. Until Professor Gavin McCrone delivered his report last May, the Scots had hardly been renowned for harmony. Indeed, a previous attempt to strike a new deal for the profession, the Millennium Review, had collapsed in acrimony.

But after eight months of sometimes fractious bargaining "people walking out, the old wars being fought", one negotiator says, ministers, local authorities and unions struck a deal on the basis of his recommendations. And 80 per cent of teachers accepted it.

It was devolution that made the difference: for the first time, the money is there - most of it, anyway - and in the hands of locally-elected politicians.

For all the excitement down south, there is plenty of caution in Scotland. The McCrone agreement may read well; implementing it will be another matter.

For one thing, this national agreement leaves much to be negotiated locally, either with each of the 32 local authorities, or in individual schools. New local negotiating committees are being formed right now.

While McCrone may have brought a period of peace, many predict school-by-school disagreements, and the likelihood that some teachers may end up better off than others.

Take the most headline-grabbing feature: the 35-hour week, which comes into effect from August. By 2006, when arrangements are fully phased in, staff will teach a maximum 22.5 hours a week, and will be guaranteed an hour for every three taught - 7.5 hours in total - to prepare lessons and mark books.

Use of the other five hours will be agreed with headteachers, and there is a list of administrative duties which no teacher will any longer be expected to perform.

Nevertheless, looking at the things teachers might be expected to do (see box, below left) in those five hours, the words "quart" and "pint pot" spring to mind. In theory, heads cannot force teachers to run homework clubs, after-school activities or even attend meetings. If they do, the time counts as part of their 35 hours. That is likely to prove hard to put into practice.

The changes also depend on the Scottish Executive's ability to recruit 4,000 more teachers and employ a vast army of teaching assistants, bursars and technicians.

"Teacher supply is pie in the sky. I don't see that we're going to recruit 4,000 new teachers," says Jim Docherty, the sceptical assistant general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

And here's where the money falls a touch short, too. McCrone costed his proposals at pound;280 million. Employers put the figure closer to pound;560m. The Executive compromised at around pound;450m, and while the pay rises are secure, the cash might not be all there for, say, the admininstrative staff.

In any event, employers don't really expect teachers to work just 35 hours, any more than they now work the 30 hours that their old contracts stipulated (albeit with an England-style open-ended caveat). The time limit, they say, is simply a protection against abuse.

"Teachers will have a very clearly defined 35-hour week, and if they want to exercise their right to do no more than that, then fine," says Danny McCafferty, education spokesman for the employers. "But in the real world, I don't know a single educationist that would walk out the door."

The average working week now is 42 hours compared with the 50-odd hours worked in English schools. But some union negotiators say that if teachers are working more than 35 hours a week in 2006, then McCrone will have failed in its central aim.

"It's the one area that will persuade teachers that the deal was a tremendous achievement," said Drew Morrice, one of the EIS's negotiating team.

English unions may not have realised that the protected marking time - 20 minutes for every hour of class-contact time - will also go in 2006. It is a purely transitional arrangement. Employers hope that by then teachers will be comfortable with the new negotiating arrangements in their schools and that a new culture of consensus will prevail.

If teachers wish, it may be reinstated, but McCafferty says it seems silly to divide teachers' time up into boxes. "I don't know any other profession that does that." Sceptics, on the left in particular, believe that workload will soon creep up again.

Meanwhile, schools face a massive exercise as teachers are assimilated on to new, simplified pay scales. The old senior teacher and assistant principal teacher grades are being scrapped. Instead there will be chartered teachers - similar to post-threshold teachers in England - and principal teachers who hold management posts.

Anyone who holds a promoted position now must undergo "job-sizing". As many as 10,000 teachers are affected. Their duties will be evaluated to place them on the new scales. Salaries will be protected for anyone who loses out, but opponents of the deal expect heads to use the opportunity to cut costs by putting teachers on a lower point on the scale.

"We're looking for common sense," says SSTA's Docherty. "It shouldn't be difficult, but I know for a fact there will be difficulties."

Teachers can apply for chartered status - and the chance to progress further up the pay scale - after five years. Qualification will be based in part on a portfolio of continuing professional development which all teachers will now be required to keep.

The Government and local authorities are committed to putting in place high-quality continuing professional development schemes. Again, wait and see. All teachers will have to undergo an extra 35 hours a year training - equivalent to an extra week's work on top of the five days' in-service training, but it can be done after school or at weekends.

Teachers will have to agree their training programmes with their heads. There may be a clash of priorities.

In the end, the success or failure of the McCrone agreement will come down to how much the culture in education changes. Local authorities will have to accept that some decisions will be taken at school level and teachers will have to ensure they follow the spirit of the deal.

McCafferty says: "As soon as you give someone power, they will use it, and might not use it the way you would have. You have to ask yourself if that's a bad thing. It's a mind-set change."

He adds: "There will be agreements and disagreements, resistance to change, people defending their territory and old animosities. No doubt there's a rough ride ahead, but the process we've started is now unstoppable."

Teachers are more circumspect. Docherty warns employers they cannot pull the wool over teachers' eyes: "We are an ageing profession - there is no naivety up here. Teachers knew what was being offered and they saw that this was the way forward.

"But the days of Scottish teachers keeping quiet if it doesn't work are long gone."



* Teach (up to 22.5 hours)

* Prepare lessons and mark books (at least 7.5 hours). * Attend parents' meetings. * Write reports. * Attend staff meetings. * Forward planning curriculum development. * Undergo formal assessment. * Extra-curricular activities. * Continuous professional development. DON'T.

* Do playground or dinner duty. * Collect dinner money or organise school meals. * Document pupil disciplinary or attendance records. * Carry out reception duties, typing, filing or photocopying. * Documentation for school trips or work experience. * Input assessment data. * Issue standard letters. * Organise supply cover. * Send recorded data to outside bodies. * Stocktaking, invoicing, ordering supplies. * Property management. * IT technical support. * First aid or after-school care.

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