Swifter sackings loom;News;News and opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Edinburgh tribunal case opens the door to changes. Neil Munro reports.

MINISTERS ARE now almost certain to make it easier for education authorities to sack teachers after an employment tribunal threw a spanner in the works.

The TESS understands that Edinburgh City Council has taken legal advice and decided not to appeal against last week's tribunal ruling that it breached a teacher's contract of employment by changing its disciplinary procedures. The tribunal's ruling is of key significance since it means the recommendations of the McCrone inquiry cannot be imposed on teachers without agreement.

One education expert commented: "In the absence of negotiation, the only way dismissal can be made easier as the law now stands would be for teachers to be sacked and rehired on new contracts, which would be politically unthinkable, presumably."

Peter Peacock, the Deputy Children and Education Minister, told the TESS:

"The tribunal decision makes no difference to our policy, which is to give more responsibility to directors of education. We want to review the disciplinary arrangements for teachers, which is why we set up the committee under the chairmanship of ACAS."

In the Edinburgh case Colin Mackay, the secretary of the local association of the Educational Institute of Scotland, successfully argued that the disciplinary rules were part of his contract of employment and had been changed unilaterally.

The tribunal rejected Edinburgh's case that the disciplinary arrangements were not part of a collective agreement with the unions, and so changes did not have to be negotiated with staff.

The council is also likely to desert a separate case lodged in the Court of Session after the EIS got an interdict to prevent Edinburgh officials holding a hearing under the changed rules. The hearing could have led to the dismissal of an assistant head at a city secondary school. Ministers had been awaiting the outcome of the court's judgement in that case before deciding whether to amend the law.

Roy Jobson, Edinburgh's director of education, would not be drawn on the council's next moves. But he did say: "What we now have is a national not a local issue, and we hope that the Scottish Executive will now examine employment law as it applies to teachers."

Like many authorities, Edinburgh wanted to bring the dismissal of teachers into line with other local government staff. Teachers would then have been sacked by senior education officials, with a right of appeal to a sub-committee of councillors.

Following its defeat at the tribunal, the council will now revert to the status quo of taking cases to the full education committee, where a straight majority is required by law. This is likely to include the planned dismissal of the assistant head.

At the same time the council will write to ministers pressing for an amendment to the legislation, section 75 of the Self-Governing Schools Act 1980, which will effectively overturn the tribunal's decision. The unions, long suspicious of "macho" managements and "maverick" authorities, will storngly oppose the move.

But Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, has already made it clear he agrees with the conclusions of a still unpublished HMI report that "steps should be taken to im- prove the efficiency of disciplinary proceedings to deal with teachers who cannot meet the required standards."

He also announced that a national committee chaired by ACAS is to draw up guidelines to set a new standard of teachers' competence and "clarify the interaction of discipline with grievance and complaints procedures."

The Minister indicated, in that same speech to the conference of secondary heads two weeks ago, that any legislation required to change the present arrangements would not be introduced until after the ACAS committee reported, and would also take account of any recommendations from the McCrone committee.

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