No, Minister;Letter

24th September 1999 at 01:00
As a former member of the management side of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, I would appeal to all those with an interest in Scottish education to do whatever they can to persuade Sam Galbraith, the Education Minister, to think again about his plans to abolish the committee.

The SJNC enshrines a partnership which benefits Scottish education, far beyond those which are so freely invoked in the rhetoric of Blair and Galbraith. The case for the SJNC is simple : it benefits the pupils.

Teachers' conditions are the learning conditions of pupils.

The great breakthrough of the recent negotiations was the opportunity to limit class sizes to 30 right through to secondary school. Both unions and councils realised this could be done ahead of the Government's sound bite pledges.

Teachers' hours also need to be protected to benefit pupils. Effective delivery of the curriculum, meaningful assessment and pastoral care require time without teaching commitments. The problem for the management side is that all improvements to conditions cost money. The pressure to abolish the SJNC is therefore considerable, and sadly the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has now submitted.

Mr Galbraith's decision is likely to provoke grass roots pressure in the unions which may be hard for their leadership to ignore. It is very sad that, as so often in the past, it is the teachers who may have to fight to defend Scottish education. If the SJNC goes conditions are likely to be eroded, particularly if the Government is forced to commit to pay increases recommended by the committee of inquiry.

The difficulty in arguing for the retention of the SJNC is that, while conditions were protected, pay fell behind other comparable groups and teachers south of the border. Nonetheless the mood in a teaching profession which saw successive Tory ministers off the park may still be enough to drive teachers to stand up against even a New Labour Minister.

Janet Law Education Convener, 1995-99 Perth and Kinross Council

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