David Henderson reports from the annual conference of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland PRIMARY heads are more convinced than ever that they are on their way to pay parity with secondary colleagues following a "significant victory" in the appeal courts. They are also encouraged by talks on implementing the McCrone recommendations.
"The arguments are moving strongly in our favour," Bill Milligan, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, told its annual conference in Seamill last week.
Mr Milligan offered reassurances that the association's long-running equal pay fight at an employment tribunal in Glasgow would eventually bring substantial backdated rises.
A legal challenge by South Ayrshire Council - the test case authority - at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Edinburgh was thrown out by Lord Johnston last month, who ruled that male primary heads could piggyback on claims by female heads based on sex discrimination and that comparisons could be made between a primary and secondary head in different authorities.
South Ayrshire, which is being financially supported by the other Scottish authorities, is to appeal to the Court of Session. The heads' legal team is now ready to call Forbes Jackson, head of the 160-pupil Mallaig High in Highland, to give evidence.
More than 600 heads have submitted claims which could cost authorities up to pound;70 million. But some estimates put the total cost of a settlement based on five years' back pay and extra annual salary costs at pound;188 million - almost the entire cost of the McCrone package.
Mr Milligan believes it is only a matter of time before primary heads are placed on the same pay scale as secondary heads, even if, in reality, they would earn significantly less because of smaller rolls. Only a few in the largest primaries would be paid the same.
"We believe our arguments are robust and we do not believe at all tha South Ayrshire's arguments will stand the light of day. When you ask how essentially does a secondary head's job differ, then you get silly arguments like they have got bigger buildings or more staff and therefore more money. That would seem to us that this would make the job easier, not more difficult. Certainly we believe our case is robust as regards the law."
The association says pay parity already exists at levels below senior posts and that equality for heads was only dropped by the authorities because of the costs.
Primary heads believe the backing for equal pay in the McCrone report adds to the pressure. Authorities, however, continue to dispute this and want a job evaluation or job sizing exercise jointly carried out by themselves and the unions before setting pay scales.
Mr Milligan, head of Dalmilling primary, Ayr, said: "From our point of view, we are certainly encouraged by the way the McCrone implementation group is going about its business. We have been assured by Professor Gavin McCrone this is a package and cherry-picking bits of the package seems unreasonable. If you accept McCrone, you accept the package."
As Professor McCrone's report backed parity, and accepted there would knock-on effects on other senior staff, he must have costed the move in his overall estimated budget, Mr Milligan said.
But any pay parity agreed through the McCrone talks would have to be phased in. "The question is how long?" Mr Milligan said. "Seven to 10 years would be too long, for example."
The association is being financially supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission in its legal battle but admits it may have to reconsider its position if equal pay scales are agreed through the McCrone route.
But Mr Milligan said there were arguments for carrying on: "We have a duty of care to those members who have retired for whom McCrone could not do a lot."
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