Unions wait to see who's the boss;Scottish Election

7th May 1999 at 01:00
As the polls closed last night in Scotland's historic election, Neil Munro looks to the educational challenges ahead.

THE "new Scotland" poses dilemmas for the teaching unions as well as the authorities. The unions are no soulmates of their employers, having spent as much time lambasting council leaders as ministers. As one union figure famously, and privately, said: "They treat teachers like just another bunch of local government workers rather than a national profession."

Yet the unions do not wish to give any aid or comfort to centralising tendencies from MSPs. Ian McKay, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, recently suggested that unions should use their strength to "discipline" MSPs lest they show an unwelcome interest in initiative overload.

John Patton, the EIS's vice-president, also made it clear the union would be looking to the parliament to rein in officials and HMI, and involve teachers more in policy-making. Education directors have repeatedly argued that they have had to rescue botched, "top-down" reforms such as Higher Still, target-setting and 5-14 assessment.

Colin Mair of the Scottish Local Authorities' Management Centre at Strathclyde University agrees education is already centralised. "We have a national curriculum in all but name, and a national assessment framework. Local finance is earmarked and there is a national performance measuring system as well as national pay and conditions."

George Reid of the SNP, who sat on the planning committee for the parliament, says the parliament's education committee will have specialist advisers and panels on particular issues. There would also be a "rapporteur" along European lines whose job would be to feed in public representations.

As ever, finance will be the driving force. Mr Mair points out that spending totals and funding will be determined nationally. Allocations to councils would be decided by a distribution committee which he described as "perfect for non-accountability".

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