Scots cut down to size

12th September 2003 at 01:00
The McCrone deal on pay and workload looked astonishingly generous at first, but now it's a different story. Nicholas Pyke reports

All eyes are looking north once again. It is now more than two years since the McCrone agreement shocked the Westminster establishment and astonished English teachers by awarding their Scottish counterparts a whopping 23 per cent pay rise plus a limit of just 35 working hours a week.

Now, with their own workload agreement coming into force, English schools are once again making comparisons, this time anxious rather than envious.

What has become of the McCrone pay and conditions agreement which set a breathtaking new standard for union negotiators the length and breadth of the British Isles? A settlement which seemed to defy the conventional view that jaundiced public opinion will never allow good pay deals for public servants? In short, has it delivered?

Isabel Forbes can give you an answer, but it is not an encouraging one because, for her, McCrone has meant a pay cut of pound;2,000.

Now aged 50, the former assistant head - a third tier of senior management in Scottish schools - was recently raised to the level of full-blown deputy at Balerno community high school near Edinburgh. But there has not been much champagne around because for Isabel, and others in the same position, the step up in seniority has meant a step down in salary.

This is the result of "job sizing", the last and the most controversial piece of the giant McCrone jigsaw.

Much of the agreement, struck in January 2001, has gone smoothly. Scottish teachers have few complaints about the three-year pay deal, for example.

And, despite obvious logistical difficulties, the 35-hour week has been accepted by employers. (From 2006, by the way, the Scots will also have a maximum of 22.5 teaching hours or "contact time" a week.) There has been a welcome increase in the number of school support staff and an official commitment both to flexible working and in-service training.

But job sizing, a nationwide review of senior posts in primary and secondary, is dominating the debate. The local authorities, the Scottish executive and the main teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, have assessed 13,500 management positions and assigned each one a notional salary based on responsibilities.

This may be higher or thousands of pounds lower than the current pay rates, and its effect has been to redistribute management cash from the secondary to the primary sector over the coming years, and from better-off to struggling schools. Current post-holders have their salaries protected.

Overall there are as many losers as winners, but according to the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, two-thirds of secondary management posts have been downgraded.

The losers certainly include people like Isabel Forbes at Balerno, which serves the comfortable western fringe of Edinburgh, out by the Pentland Hills. While most teachers can hang on to their current pay packets, this does not apply to recent appointees. So Isabel, whose promotion came after April 2001, will have to take the hit.

It is not as if she has had any choice in the matter. The McCrone agreement has abolished a range of senior management posts, including assistant headteachers, senior teachers (non-promoted staff with additional responsibility) and assistant principals (deputy heads of department), producing a structure more recognisable south of the border.

Her school had little option but to raise her status and reduce her salary.

One of her colleagues has lost pound;4,000 in the same way.

For Rory Mackenzie, her headteacher, this is both baffling and depressing.

Even staff whose salaries have been protected under the scheme have been dismayed to be handed an official judgment saying they should truly be paid much less. Recruiting senior managers is already difficult enough, he says, without insulting the ones you have and cutting the pay that the posts will attract in future.

The job sizing has also been a blow to the hefty pastoral support system in Scottish secondary schools, traditionally manned by senior staff including assistant principals, whose posts have now been abolished, of course.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS union, which played a major role in striking the McCrone agreement, acknowledges the disquiet.

"There's been a fair bit of dissatisfaction," he says. "There is an implicit message that somehow they haven't deserved the money they have been earning. But we've moved from a crude system to a sophisticated one, which takes each individual job into account."

It could not, he says, have been a "one-way street" without huge additional spending.

All the same, Balerno, an 850-pupil comprehensive, feels it has been treated badly by an exercise which relied on assessments devised by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, who have little knowledge of schools.

Mr Mackenzie himself has taken a notional pay cut of pound;6,000, putting him on a par with the head of a city centre school with only 450 pupils.

"It is a great mystery," says Mr Mackenzie. He also says it is a great shame because the McCrone agreement has for the most part been an important step forward for Scottish education. The additional cash given to schools for administration has allowed him to hire a full-time business manager.

The insistence that every teacher should undertake an annual minimum of 35 hours of professional development a year, he believes, sends an important signal - although not all teachers are enthusiastic at the prospect of trips to council headquarters for lessons in "mind mapping" and such like.

The weekly working hours limit of 35 is the clause that was predicted to cause most trouble, and certainly some heads complain that it is a slackers' charter. But Mr Mackenzie believes that his experience is more the norm.

His staff agreed collectively which additional jobs must be done beyond the 35-hour limit, broke it down into a number of hours per head, and signed up for it. The result is that every member of staff does at least 136.5 hours a year extra, taking into account, for example, 24 hours of parents'

meetings and 30 hours of reports and assessment.

There is also time for what the Scots call "collegiate activities", better known as meetings.

In practical terms, 35 hours is too little for most dedicated staff to do their jobs, and few pretend otherwise. Mr Mackenzie does around 57 hours a week, including Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings. Isabel Forbes works something like 50.

But he believes it has produced a lot of thought about the nature of the job and, ultimately, a more professional view: "The hours thing is helping.

There are maybe one or two who you might say are clock watching. But generally the profession does not do that at all."

Even if in practice it is rather flexible, the 35-hour rule does sound rigid and some question the sort of publicity it has generated.

"We're quite frustrated that the public have the impression we only work 35 hours a week," comments Alan McKinney, a 28-year-old English teacher at Balerno. Forty-five hours would be a more realistic assessment, he believes.

Perhaps this is why the English workload agreement has avoided laying down an explicit maximum number of hours. But the EIS insists it is an important weapon of defence, whose true worth is yet to be tested.

"It's a clear statement of what a teacher is entitled to insist upon and to the management about the level of expectation it may have of the teaching force," says Ronnie Smith.

"The rigidity with which it is observed will be a barometer of the profession. If teachers are being abused, they will increasingly invoke what is a very unambiguous entitlement."


The McCrone report of 2000, written by retired civil servant Gavin McCrone, proposed a radical overhaul of pay and conditions for Scottish teachers.

Following negotiations with the Scottish Executive, local authorities and the unions, the Pay and Conditions Agreement of 2001 was struck. It set out:

* A 23 per cent pay rise over three years

* A maximum limit of 35 working hours a week

* Professional development of 35 hours a year

* Abolition of a range of management posts

* Increased support staff in schools

* A new "chartered teacher" pay scale for non-promoted posts

* A national "job sizing" exercise to shift management money to primary schools

* Year's training for all probationers


Before her promotion to deputy, Isabel Forbes and three fellow assistant heads had the same workload and the same pay. Now, thanks to job sizing, they still have the same, heavy workload but salaries that vary by pound;4,000.

Worse still, Isabel Forbes is getting around pound;2,000 less than she had done as an assistant head. It makes her particularly angry that there has been no explanation of why her salary has been reduced.

"It's totally disappointing. After all this time you're worthy of a pay cut. People would feel less insulted if there was knowledge of how these salaries had been calculated. Everyone in senior management enjoys their job. I do. I love my job.

"But I'm insulted that unknown people aren't able to tell me the rationale for my salary. Job sizing may be new, but senior managers at assistant senior teacher level have always had equivalent workloads. It's just bizarre."

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