Toolkit secrets outed

29th September 2006 at 01:00
One of the most closely-guarded secrets in Scottish education will not remain under wraps for much longer.

Aberdeenshire Council has been ordered to hand over a copy of the job-sizing toolkit used in the controversial exercise to evaluate promoted posts in schools, after which the salaries paid to senior staff were revised, as part of the national teachers' agreement.

The council told The TESS that it will not appeal the decision to the Court of Session, which means the toolkit must be released. Although the ruling by Kevin Dunion, the Scottish Information Commissioner, has just come to light, it was issued on August 22 and the information has to become public by October 23.

This outcome is a slap in the face for the three parties in the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) - unions, local authorities and the Scottish Executive - which have adamantly refused to publish the toolkit.

They argued that none of the members of the SNCT "owned" the toolkit. It belongedto the SNCT, which was not a public body and therefore not covered by freedom of information legislation.

The unexpected turn of events was sparked when David Paterson, an Aberdeenshire teacher, used the Fo... legislation to compel his authority to release the toolkit.

The council stuck to the official line that, since the toolkit was essentially the property of the SNCT, it was exempt from disclosure by Aberdeenshire.

Mr Dunion found, however, that the council had "misapplied" a key section of the act dealing with exemption from disclosure and therefore failed to comply with another part of the act.

In his judgment, the commissioner noted that "Mr Paterson said he did not think the council could be said legally not to hold the information if it had a role in the implementation of the material to which the toolkit related: in essence, that it was using the information".

Mr Paterson went on to claim that it was in the public interest to have access to the toolkit "since it had a significant effect on public sector workers".

Mr Dunion agreed that the information was not held by the council on behalf of the SNCT. "The council uses the toolkit to implement one of its obligations, in its own right and not on behalf of any other person," the commissioner ruled.

He added: "The SNCT may have provided the toolkit, and the council may be restricted in terms of the way in which it uses the information, but that does not mean it is held on behalf of the SNCT."

Aberdeenshire also claimed its refusal to publish the toolkit was covered by the exemption in the legislation because disclosure would be commercially harmful to the SNCT, which was on the point of selling it in order to recover the development costs.

But Mr Dunion said the job of the SNCT is to negotiate salaries and conditions for teachers and that it has no commercial interests. The council, therefore, wrongly applied the exemption to the toolkit.

Although the job-sizing exercise has been strongly defended by the unions and local authorities, headteachers and those who "lost out" have been less impressed.

It has been described as "a real irritant" by George Haggarty, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, who said the toolkit and the salary scales need to be reviewed "as a matter of urgency". It has resulted in many teachers being "locked into outdated evaluations".

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, welcomed the ruling and commented: "School leaders will finally be able to test widespread concerns about the accuracy of information input to the toolkit by some local authorities in the original calculation of job-size scores.

"Indeed, it will enable post-holders properly to compare and contrast salaries in different local authorities."

Both HAS and AHDS believe the lack of salary differentials resulting from job-sizing has led to a serious drop in applications for depute and headteacher posts.

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