Ten-year wait for the kisses and the flowers

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Neil Munro reports on the tortured negotiations that produced one false dawn after another before ministers, local authorities and the unions were finally able to co-operate for 'the good of the pupils'

The longest stand-off in the history of Scottish trade union negotiations began, inappropriately, on St Valentine's Day more than 10 years ago. Terms of endearment between the two sides have been notable only by their absence ever since.

The Educational Institute of Scotland suggested on February 14, 1990, that special talks should take place within the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee on a "competitive salaries structure" for teachers and an improvement in working conditions.

The unions wanted pay and conditions to be deliberated separately. The management side, equally adamantly, was determined the two were inseparable.

The ensuing 10 years have been marked by increasingly entrenched attitudes in which the unions demanded "funding for pay" while the education authorities, under Government exhortation, insisted on "funding for modernisation".

Ministers, until now, largely stayed in the background, barring occasional rhetorical forays urging both sides to "remember the pupils".


The first signs of trenches being dug came in the heat of the 1992 general election. The unions unceremoniously snubbed a deal that would have increased salaries by an average of 18.1 per cent over 15 months - in return for scrapping some national agreements on conditions.

In an offer which varied little in the intervening years, the local authorities were prepared to buy out these conditions for pound;170 million. Core pay and conditions would continue to be negotiated nationally, but the national rulebook governing a host of areas such as class contact, preparation and correction time, planned activities and parents' evenings would be replaced by local arrangements.

It was at this point that the authorities flagged up their intention to bind teachers to a 35-hour contractual working week, with two weeks off their holidays, to release time for more in-service training.

Despite a guaranteed index-linking of future pay rises against inflation, the unions decided this was a price too high.

Teachers eventually settled for a no-strings 5.5 per cent rise, content that they had protected their conditions.


This "1990s review" led to the "Millennium Review", to similar demand and counter-demand and to deadlock. In a structure remarkably similar to the present negotiating approach, four task groups representing both sides and reporting to a strategy group were set up in early 1997.

At this point Michael Forsyth, the then Scottish Secretary, upped the ante with impeccable timing and suddenly announced that he wanted the SJNC to be replaced with a pay review body similar to that for England and Wales.

The four task groups duly deliberated at length and reported to the strategy group which in turn submitted an agreed report to the SJNC in October 1998.

Although there was a wide measure of agreement on unthreatening principles, the unions and authorities on the SJNC decided it was time for another set of negotiations on the details. A special negotiating subcommittee was charged "to achieve salary levels for Scottish teachers such as to attract and retain in the profession high-quality practitioners". The aims, barely changed at any stage in the decade, were "to reward the dedicated classroom teacher" and "review the management structure in Scotland's schools".

The management side tabled formal proposals in January 1999. These involved sweeping changes which differed little from the 1992 offer.

The unions dug in and submitted "counter-proposals" which envisaged significant rises for all teachers, not just some, a three-tier management structure, more autonomy for teachers, a reduction in class sizes, new leave arrangements including sabbaticals and more involvement by teachers in school and local authority decision-making.

Again, the battle-lines and the hymn sheets conformed to the same familiar pattern.

The eventual Millennium offer from management, which it estimated as a 17.3 per cent pay increase over three years for class teachers on maximum pay, was rejected. Headline claims - "up to 39 per cent increase for teachers" - failed to impress, then as now. The offer was fatally wounded by what was seen as a threat to principal teacher posts, changes in conditions, an increase in composite class sizes and additional hours - all for an average 5 per cent more a year including inflation.

In September 1999, following ill-tempered exchanges and a leaked memo from Sam Galbraith, the Education Minister, indicating his intention to abolish the SJNC as a statutory body, a remarkably identical 98 per cent of members of the EIS and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association voted to reject the local authorities' proposals. Three-quarters of both union memberships took part in the ballot.


The Scottish Executive's response, after confirming the abolition of the SJNC, was to set up the independent McCrone inquiry - the third inquiry in 20 years. The EIS lost no time in telling the inquiry members that teachers were worth another pound;100 a week if they were to catch up with other professions.

Professor Gavin McCrone reported in May last year that "if we are to reap the benefits of a first class education service, we must make the necessary investment now". That investment was variously estimated at more than pound;200 million by the inquiry and at pound;550 million by the local authorities - an early warning of good intentions being threatened by funding wrangles.

But, despite what was seen as a generally "teacher friendly" report, albeit infused with support for management's assault on the teachers' "prescriptive" contract, the unions wanted to see the colour of the Government's money and the Government demanded to know what it was going to get for its money.


The 10-year history of the negotiating impasse quickly repeated itself: one inquiry requires another.

And so McCrone spawned the current negotiations, which consisted of five sub groups covering conditions, pay and grading, career progression, support staff and future negotiating machinery. The sub-groups reported to an implementation group chaired by the Education Minister: the active involvement of Government ministers and officials was the new ingredient.

Money, as ever, was the spanner in the works. Although the pay sub-group recommended a two-year deal, ministers decided it had to be over three years to spread the cost - along with the familiar demands for changes to teachers' contracts echoing down the years from 1992 and 1999.

An average 21.5 per cent rise over three years was the result, compared to McCrone's 15 per cent over two years.

According to the local authorities, teachers have lost pound;50,000 since 1992 from the combination of the awards they rejected, inflation-proofed pay increases and annual salary increments.

The French have a word for it. After 10 weary years, the phrases plus ca change and deja vu spring to mind.


Teachers enter the profession on pound;15,249. The McCrone recommendations would have increased that to pound;17,425 by April 2002, with fully qualified teachers who have completed their probation earning pound;19,475. The pay sub-group's proposal, rejected by ministers as too costly, envisaged by next year a starting salary of pound;18,750 for what is intended to be one probationary year, after which it suggested a leap to pound;22,345.

At present unpromoted teachers take nine years to earn maximum pay of pound;23,313 with relatively small increments along the way. McCrone would have replaced this with a five-year scale after probation when teachers' pay would increase by annual increments of pound;1,435 to reach pound;26,650 by April 2002.

The pay sub-group also recommended five years to reach the top for unpromoted teachers, setting their pay levels at between pound;22,345 and pound;28,200. But while the McCrone committee anticipated that its salary proposals for 2002 would be topped up by the annual pay award that year, the sub-group agreed there should be no pay round until 2003.

At the other end of the salary range, headteachers' maximum salaries would have gone from pound;39,834 for primary heads and pound;54,774 for secondary heads to a single scale for both sectors by 2002 of pound;63,038 under McCrone and pound;66,350 under the pay sub-group's plan.

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