Tartan crusade for teacher vote;SNP conference

2nd October 1998 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the SNP's conference in Inverness

THE Scottish National Party has made a naked bid to win teacher votes next May by promising a broad-based education convention to frame policy in the Scottish parliament.

It is also close to handing to the teacher unions a veto on implementing the Higher Still reforms and if it forms an administration, will review what Nicola Sturgeon, its education spokesperson, fears may be a "botched introduction".

Alex Salmond, the party's leader, devoted a substantial part of his keynote address to education, pledging to end what he termed the Labour war on teachers. The SNP would engage "in a crusade with teachers and parents" and "consult not confront", Mr Salmond said.

Its methods would be fundamentally different. "Labour - in health as in education - dictates from above, setting targets, bullying managers and workers and throwing a smokescreen of spin over the reality of our public services," Mr Salmond said.

In the main education debate, a procession of speakers called for the new parliament to end Labour's "soundbite and photocall approach" to policy-making and backed new consultation mechanisms involving councils, unions, pupils, parents, professional organisations and academics.

Ms Sturgeon said Labour had adopted the Tory tactics of bashing the teachers. "Morale among Scottish teachers is rock bottom and Labour has continued the Tory policy of driving down pay and of refusing to listen to concerns, such as on Higher Still," she said.

Spreading fear and demoralisation among the teaching profession idents. A Scottish parliament would have to find alternative approaches and the SNP's People's Assembly in November would be the first opportunity for people who deliver education to have their say, Ms Sturgeon said.

"The SNP is not going to talk down Scottish teachers. We are going to listen and we are going to strive to ensure our education policy is the best for all Scotland."

Janet Law, education convener in Perth and Kinross, called for a consensus and her Perth colleague, Ewan Dow, urged an end to the "dictatorship, decree and diktat" of Helen Liddell, the Education Minister. Mr Dow mocked: "If Helen Liddell is the typical Scottish mother, how many of us think we were adopted at birth?" Ian Goldie, Edinburgh, appealed for Mrs Liddell to stop "the carping criticism that so demoralises the teaching profession". Labour had yet to do anything about the major problem of teacher workload.

Graham Sutherland, a Scottish parliament candidate for Edinburgh West and a modern studies teacher, called for an "inclusive, open and broad-based" approach to policy-making. "No longer should Scottish education policy be made behind closed doors by quangos, civil servants or opportunistic education ministers," Mr Sutherland said.

* Targets should be set by schools from the bottom up in consultation with local authorities and parents and not imposed from the centre, the party said.

Leader, page 20

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