A one-off rise without guarantees against erosion is no compensation for the loss of conditions of service, says John Dennis
A GRAND spin has been done on the report of the McCrone committee. It has been acclaimed as the way forward for Scottish education, even by leading members of the Educational Institute of Scotland. But does the reality really match the hype? On the three key issues that affect all teachers - pay, class sizes and workload - McCrone manages only a half-mark out of three, not even approaching a pass.
On the positive side - the half-mark - the report does substantially improve starting salaries for entrants to the profession and the shortening of the basic scale to five points is a step forward. There is also an admission that Scottish teachers' salaries rose far less in absolute and real terms than those of comparable professions between 1990 and 1998.
However, while the report recognises the need for national pay bargaining, there is nothing in it that commits the Executive to keeping future pay rises in line with average earnings. Were McCrone to be accepted, teachers' pay would start to fall behind other professions' immediately.
The salary increases suggested are nothing special. They amount only to some of what we should have been getting anyway over the past 10 years if Tory and Labour governments had funded state education properly.
McCrone completely ducked the issue of class sizes, claiming that "any new initiative to reduce class sizes would therefore be likely . . . to be at the expense of our other recommendations, to which we attach greater importance".
So what are these important recommendations of McCrone's, in particular in the crucial area of workload? To give the committee its due, it does make one positive proposal, which is to equalise maximum class contact time for primary and secondary teachers. But the report could have taken an in-depth look at ways of effectively limiting workload through the establishment of representative committees at national and local authority level with powers to scrutinise and limit the number and nature of curricular innovations.
Instead the committee paid lip-service to the concerns of Scottish teachers about workload and came up with the novel solution that would make us spend an extra five days (or 30 hours) on continuing professional development. It also wants teachers to spend five hours a week (out of 35) on "collegiate activities" "agreed at school level" - that is, the equivalent of a planned activity time session every night unless there is a parents' evening that week.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that the extra five working days for professional development - which goes far beyond the discredited Millennium Review proposals - will soon be filled up by the Education Minister, HMI and directorates with an acceleration in the plethora of initiatives associated with the 5-14 progrmme, Higher Still, target-
setting and information and communications technology.
Five hours of collegiate activities works out at 190 hours in a school year as against the maximum under the existing contract of 80 hours (30 hours of planned activity time, 20 hours of personal and professional development and 30 hours for parents' evening).
McCrone repeatedly draws comparisons with our much put-upon colleagues in England and Wales and concludes that workload problems here are not as bad. It is worth remarking that the report does not compare Scottish teachers' workload and hours with those of teachers in the rest of western Europe (although pay rates are compared). Could this be a significant omission?
It is reckoned that if we work longer hours our workload problems will be resolved (provided we get better quality and better organised in-service). The reality is quite different. If this report is accepted by Scottish teachers, we will be working longer hours under management control on the latest ill-conceived and rushed developments in the farcical Higher Still and 5-14 sagas.
The committee was made up of managers from education, industry and the civil service. There was not a classroom teacher among them. The addition of a retired union official was never going to make any difference to its managerialist perspective, although it did give the EIS leadership the excuse to co-operate uncritically. It is no wonder they managed to come up with such ludicrous proposals for dealing with teacher workload.
Opponents of the recommendations are constantly accused of being negative and offering no alternative strategy. We believe that the union must fight for:
A salaries rise equivalent to that proposed by McCrone but without strings.
A three-year moratorium on new curricular initiatives to allow existing initiatives to "bed in".
A national negotiating body with elected class teacher representatives to oversee the introduction and implementation of all current and future curricular initiatives, taking fully into account their workload implications.
The retention of existing national conditions of service.
Teachers' professional autonomy within the existing contractual week and year.
Some leading members of the EIS have hailed the McCrone report as the basis of the only
way forward. So we need to make the argument now that just as
the Executive and the EIS leadership were wrong on Higher Still, they are also seriously wrong in assuming that teachers are so shortsighted that they will trade their working hours for a one-off pay deal.
The pay will soon start eroding, but once conditions have been worsened it is very difficult to change them through negotiation. McCrone has to be rejected.
John Dennis is a member of the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers and member for Dumfries and Galloway on the EIS executive council.