Union and Government lock horns over work-to-rule ballot

1st October 2010 at 01:00
Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association is given ultimatum over Curriculum for Excellence

Scotland's second-largest teaching union will decide today whether to continue down the route of balloting its members on a "work to contract" over implementing Curriculum for Excellence - or keep its seat on the key body overseeing the reform.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association last week received an ultimatum from Colin MacLean, head of the Scottish Government's learning directorate and chair of the CfE management board, either to withdraw its threat of industrial action or step down from the board.

The union's executive council meets today to consider its response.

The trigger to the row was a letter sent by the SSTA to the education directors of Scotland's 32 local authorities, seeking reassurances on three main points. The letter, from the SSTA's general secretary, Ann Ballinger, says that if the SSTA's requirements are met by October 15, it will remove its threat of industrial action in that authority.

The SSTA's demands are that:

- "your authority provides an unambiguous statement that the point at which pupils will begin working towards national qualifications (the middle phase of secondary education) is the start of S3 and not later";

- "your authority provides, from external sources, any new assessment materials required for the implementation of CfE and in particular for S1 and S2";

- "your authority provides clear guidance on the mechanisms and criteria to be used in reporting to parents of pupils in the early years of secondary, in particular with regard to profiling, to ensure that the relevant work is capable of being undertaken within the contractual 35- hour working week".

In his letter, Mr MacLean has told Ms Ballinger that the SSTA's call for the external provision of assessment materials "runs counter to the advice provided by the Curriculum for Excellence management board on which SSTA has been represented for the last three years"; its concerns about local authority criteria for reporting and profiling have not been raised with the board; and its demand for work on national qualifications to begin in S3 and not later - a direct contradiction of the CfE's goal of providing a broad general education from S1-3 - "runs counter to a key element of policy that has been established for some time".

Since the SSTA has not raised these issues with the board, but has instead threatened industrial action, Mr MacLean says he is "forced to conclude that this position is incompatible with SSTA's continued membership of the CfE management board".

Ms Ballinger said that, with only the Educational Institute of Scotland and the SSTA represented on the management board, teachers were "overwhelmingly outvoted".

"But our members still have the right to comment on decisions," she commented.

The Scottish Government had put the SSTA in an "impossible situation", she continued, adding that she believed Education Secretary Michael Russell was behind the letter from Mr MacLean.

While she could not pre-empt the executive council's decision, she expected it to insist on allowing its membership the final say - in other words, that it would give the green light to a ballot.

In June, an indicative ballot on whether to move to a full ballot was overwhelmingly backed by those who voted - but only 25 per cent of the SSTA's membership did so.

At that point, Mr Russell urged the leadership of the union to reconsider its policy, since only one in four of its members had "bothered to vote".

Last week he said: "SSTA has been given the opportunity to reconsider its position and ensure its members' views can continue to be represented. I hope they will do so."

He added: "Threatening industrial action against local authorities if they continue to implement Curriculum for Excellence is simply unacceptable."

Elizabeth Buie elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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