Pay talks deadline set

1st December 2000 at 00:00
Minister fixes finishing date in the wake of the McCrone inquiry, but the devil is still in the detail, say unions

THE Education Minister wants the negotiations on teachers' pay and conditions to be over by December 18, the TESS understands.

This tough timescale has been set against a background of some progress but also major sticking points in the talks, which are based around the recommendations of the McCrone inquiry. They are being conducted in a number of specialist sub-groups reporting to a McCrone implementation group.

Jack McConnell, the Minister, will now come under increasing pressure to make a financial announcement about the extent to which he is prepared to fund the package. A generous settlement will be essential if the union leaderships are to be persuaded to sell any deal to their members, assuming they agree to make a recommendation.

Papers seen by the TESS show a wide measure of agreement in principle on a range of issues but with some detail, particularly on working time, still to be thrashed out. Other areas, such as the extent of local bargaining, are not yet completed. And the most contentious issues, such as class sizes, the extent of early retirement and the commitment required of teachers to implement "social inclusion" policies such as study support, do not seem to have come to the starting gate.

The outline of a "concordat" on teachers' professional rights and obligations, which would be based around a 35-hour contractual week, does seem near agreement, however, although it is not yet clear whether this will be legally binding (see page 6).

But there is still some devil in the detail. There has been agreement that all primary, secondary and special school teachers should have class contact of 22.5 hours a week out of the 35 hours - eventually, or within three years if the unions have their way. This means primary teachers doing two and a half hours less in front of a class and one hour less in the case of secondary teachers.

During this transitional period teachers would be entitled to have "personal allowance" time amounting to a third of their class contact, largely for preparation and marking. The remainder of the 35 hours would be given over to "collegiate" activities for the benefit of the school at large as agreed in school development plans. But these allocations would disappear as soon as all teachers moved on to the new class contact arrangements, and all non-contact time would be subject to local agreements at education authority and school levels.

However, this attempt to strike a balance between a prescriptive rule book and more flexible working practices is in turn dependent on a host of other factors, not least finance. Final agreement on working time and the working week is also "predicated on securing acceptance of a final package".

The Executive wants to plan and cot the estimated 3,000 extra teachers which would be required to equalise class contact in each of the three school sectors before agreeing a timescale for the new hours. The new national negotiating body, which is to replace the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee, would have to confirm that all the ingredients were in place before accepting the final shape of working time.

The Executive also proposes that, rather than adding another five days to the working year to provide time for continuous professional development as recommended by McCrone, there should be an additional 35 hours a year, or less than an hour a week. This would allow schools more flexibility but, recognising that teachers need "quality provision," this would not be made contractually binding until 2003. But no final agreement has yet been reached on CPD.

This complex interlocking deal also involves the extent of local bargaining and the issues, such as pay and conditions, which will continue to be negotiated nationally. The teaching unions remain adamantly opposed to the inclusion of the headteachers' associations, which they see as part of management, on their side of the table.

The negotiations do seem to have produced agreement on the pay levels for unpromoted teachers set out in the McCrone report, which would see teachers at the top of the basic scale earning pound;26,650 by April 2002 instead of pound;23,313. Progression beyond the top of the scale would be available, possibly for those who qualify as "chartered" teachers.

There is also acceptance of the four main teaching grades covering class and chartered teachers, principal teachers (curriculum and guidance), deputes and heads, which would mean introducing middle management posts into primary schools. But final salaries for promoted posts would be based on "a fair and transparent method of job evaluation", with the local authorities wanting to move away from school size to fix pay levels.

The negotiators also appear to have found common ground on reducing the induction of around 2,000 probationers from two years to a year, linked to a review of initial teacher training. Probationers, whose treatment in being passed round a series of short-term supply postings was harshly criticised in the McCrone report, would be guaranteed a one-year contract.

Negotiations are also under way to advance the McCrone recommendations for more support staff, including bursars, in schools. It has been suggested there should be a pilot programme to extend classroom assistants from primaries into S1 and S2, although McCrone'sproposal was for another 1,000 primary classroom assistants in addition to the Government's target of 5,000.

A national minimum standard for levels of support staff in schools and an investigation of the tasks which should not "routinely" be carried out by teachers are likely to be endorsed.

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