One way or another, everyone's taking action

25th November 2011 at 00:00

Pensions, strikes, budget cuts and shared services. It's clear what the overriding education issues are this week. We may not have returned to Thatcher's '80s yet, but momentum is building up.

Teacher unions are all planning to walk out on Wednesday - EIS, SSTA and NASUWT (p6), short of a last-minute climbdown by the Westminster Government. Along with them will be classroom assistants, dinner ladies and janitors in Unison, and primary heads and deputes in AHDS - which leaves the secondary heads (SLS) somewhat isolated in the face of picket lines.

As sister organisation of the English school leaders' association (ASCL), any action SLS took would have to be on the back of consultation with them, as new president Neil Shaw put it last week. It's not clear how much support it would get from its members, given how many fall into the 10- year age bracket which the Government exempted in a pensions deal that English Schools Minister Nick Gibb describes as "one of the best" (p35).

There are few teachers in Scotland who would agree with him. First Minister Alex Salmond appears to be relishing the prospect of national action falling on St Andrews Day, and the chance for a Holyrood debate to allow the Scottish Government to declare its support for Scottish workers in opposition to the UK Government's pension plans.

But the cuts are not just hitting pensions. Across the country, education authorities and schools are devising new partnerships and shared services to save money, whether it's councils in Midlothian and East Lothian sharing education and children's services (p5) or secondaries in West Lothian and Aberdeen sharing Higher and Advanced Higher courses (News Focus, p12-15). One way or another, everyone is taking action.

How long these strategies will last in their current form is open to question. The whole issue of school governance remains to be addressed after the council elections in May. Glenn Rodger, the new president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES), says they will continue looking for opportunities to share services, but believes they will remain within the local authority framework (p16).

Something to watch, though, is the 12 regional groupings of colleges proposed by the Scottish Government last week - North east, Fife, Tayside, Glasgow, West, Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Lanarkshire, Borders, Edinburgh and Lothians, Forth Valley, Highlands and Islands. Could this be a blueprint for schools?

For a government that enjoys a synthesis of ideas (Curriculum for Excellence, the Donaldson report and aspects of McCormac), it is not inconceivable that they could map onto them 12 regions for schools. The secondary and FE sectors are, after all, expected to work closely on vocational education and senior phase exams, and more shared services are required. The very thought would send shivers up the spines of the education directors.

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