Peace in our time - for six months;The sweeney;School Management

5th November 1999 at 00:00
It has been a week of good news. The acrimonious pay and conditions dispute, which started with a roar, ended with a whimper. The teachers' side reluctantly accepted a 3.6 per cent rise as the best available. All parties were left with an uneasy impression of unfinished business.

The thorny questions of working hours, the promotion structure and the future of the negotiating machinery itself were left uncomfortably on the table.

Little more than six months has been purchased before these contentious issues must be confronted again.

It remains to be seen whether the McCrone committee of inquiry can devise solutions which have eluded negotiators for years. Meantime a teacher on the first rung of the ladder will be pound;475 better off before tax. This is simply not enough to motivate young teachers to deliver the high quality service to children that is expected and demanded.

A critical consideration for local authorities and school managers is the effect of low pay on recruitment to teaching. Just five years ago an advert for a permanent English or mathematics post produced a substantial wad of application forms, requiring lengthy screening and judicious selection. An equivalent post in Holy Rood today would struggle to generate more than a handful of applications of varying quality.

Other subjects fare no better, with computing and business studies teachers posted as missing. Senior management posts in both primary and secondary schools are frequently readvertised as authorities struggle to present credible short lists to school boards.

The promotion structure survives, but with general acceptance that changes will have to come. Secondary schools remain uncertain how promoted posts will be distributed in the longer term. But at least they can contemplate tackling Higher Still without the prospect of the disappearance of principal teachers. The McCrone committee appears to have accepted as a point de depart that there will be some form of "superteacher" or professional leader alongside the basic hewers of wood and drawers of water. The funding and allocation of such positions remains an interesting conundrum.

It was encouraging to learn that the Cubie committee has made headway in resolving the problem of tuition fees, which has threatened to rend asunder the uneasy alliance of the Liberal Democrats and New Improved Labour.

Andrew Cubie and company have ingeniously avoided the alternatives of abolishing or retaining tuition fees by presenting different models of funding, and reducing the overall cost to the public purse.

He has included the proposal to revive maintenance grants, without which many of our current headteachers and their staff would have found themselves in other walks of life.

Such a refreshingly imaginative approach may be worthy of cascading to Professor McCrone and colleagues.

A final item of good news for Holy Rood staff and pupils was Andrew McLellan's appointment as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Andrew's wife Irene is a valued member of our home economics staff, and he is a loyal friend and supporter of our Catholic school.

He has given testimony to his Christian faith by his leadership of the Church and Nation Committee and his work on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers.

We are proud of our school's association with Andrew, and we expect the church will experience some radical changes under his stewardship. I understand that Irene will now have to wear a hat at all times, even when cooking.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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