McCrone inquest far from finished

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Circumspect MSPs are to launch two separate inquiries in the autumn into the implementation of the post-McCrone deal and its benefits for learning and teaching.

Days after Audit Scotland, the public spending watchdog, published its report on the first stages of the national agreement, the Scottish Parliament's audit committee announced it is to hold a "short inquiry" into the financing of the pound;2.15 billion deal.

The education committee will now take over and is due to report this autumn into the effects of the agreement on the classroom.

Many pundits have so far failed to notice that it is HMIE's report that is likely to answer questions about the agreement's impact on aspects such as attainment and teaching approaches.

Addressing MSPs on Tuesday, Caroline Gardner, depute auditor general, said that "implementation to date has been largely successful", despite the lack of rigorous performance measures. Most aspects of the deal had been met on schedule and within budget.

The committee heard that the final figure showed an underspend of pound;34.8 million.

Labour MSPs appeared to divide on the agreement. Susan Deacon, a former health minister, said ministers from the outset should have established greater links between pay and reform. "Could the same have been achieved for less?" she asked.

In contrast, Mary Mulligan, a former junior minister, was puzzled by the negative comments about the Audit Scotland findings when recruitment and retention had improved, industrial relations were stable and teacher morale had been lifted.

"If that's not what this was intended to achieve, I don't know what it was intended to achieve," Mrs Mulligan said.

Ms Gardner reminded MSPs that the agreement was "designed to secure long-term change, not just for teachers but for Scotland as a whole".

In her evidence, she highlighted continuing problems with the workload of headteachers who had to provide cover for non-class contact time, the need to spell out a role for chartered teachers and difficulties with the emergence of faculties in secondaries.

There were also fewer supply teachers available because of the success of probationers in finding full-time employment. An extra 1,753 teachers had been recruited to meet the terms of the agreement. More support staff had still to be taken on but teachers so far had yet to see many benefits.

Support staff tended to be drawn to whole-school tasks.

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