Councils are looking to reach a deal over teacher pay by the end of this month and have told Tes Scotland that they expect the agreement to include a commitment to a McCrone-style review of teachers’ terms and conditions.
In an exclusive interview, Stephen McCabe – children and young people spokesman for councils’ umbrella body Cosla – said that it had been “many years” since “a wider review” of teachers’ pay.
The McCrone deal – which was designed to bring teachers’ pay in line with that of other professionals and led to a 23 per cent pay rise over three years – was implemented in 2001.
When asked if teachers could expect a new McCrone deal, Mr McCabe said that he anticipated a commitment to “something along these lines as part of any agreement this year”. However, he warned that it would come with a “price tag” to be picked up by the Scottish government.
Mr McCabe said: “Cosla is of the view that after 10 years of pay restraint in the public sector these issues have to be looked at, but at the end of the day councils get somewhere in the range of 85 per cent of their funding in a grant from the Scottish government and raise around 15 per cent in council tax, and that’s constrained – we can’t put it up any more than 3 per cent in a year.”
He added: “If the expectation on the part of employees is that they should be getting above-inflation pay rises, and the view on the part of government is one way to address teacher shortages is to improve the pay of the teaching profession, that has to be funded by the government. That’s the reality.”
Teaching unions and headteachers have blamed stagnation in pay for the teacher recruitment crisis.
Education secretary John Swinney acknowledged earlier this year that a reduction in promoted posts had led to some teachers being “frustrated at the lack of opportunities to progress in their careers”. He vowed to “work with the profession to design new career pathways”.
However, a “differentiated” deal, whereby new entrants into the profession and classroom teachers at the top of the pay scale would get a pay rise of 1.5 per cent, whilst other teachers would only get 1 per cent, has already been rejected by Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS.
The union told Tes Scotland that it was “waiting for an offer from Cosla” and hoped “to have something to consider in the next couple of weeks”.
The Scottish government said that negotiations were ongoing and it would “play its part in those discussions”.
Mr McCabe – a Labour councillor who has led Inverclyde Council for a decade – took over as Cosla’s children and young people spokesperson in June. It is unusual for a council leader to become a Cosla spokesperson, but he said it was important to have a “hard-hitter” standing up for local authorities as the government plans to dilute council control over the way schools are run. “This is going to be the most contentious area for the next few years,” said Mr McCabe.
While he acknowledges his reputation for being “a forceful Labour politician and a bit of a Nat basher”, he insists he is a conciliatory leader and a consensual politician.
“I understand that in politics, as in life, you have to compromise,” he says.
One notable compromise since he took on his new role was the deal struck between Cosla and the government over new regional groupings of councils – the six so-called regional improvement collaboratives.
The government’s intention was to appoint leads to these bodies who would report to schools’ inspectorate Education Scotland. However, last month it was announced that they would be appointed by councils and accountable to councils, while also reporting to Education Scotland.
Mr McCabe warned that structures can distract from “fundamental issues” undermining education, such as staffing and resources. He acknowledged that the government is trying to address teacher shortages, but said the problem is “very acute”. Councils meanwhile are “anticipating huge cuts”, he added, so they are looking at reducing money devolved to headteachers, as well cash being spent on as areas such as classroom support.
Mr McCabe is one of seven children and was the first member of his family to go to university. “I’ve seen the value of education and the opportunity education can offer,” he said.
His other “passion” is housing. Until recently he was a part-time finance manager for a housing association, and he spent over 20 years working in that field. A warm house with space to study is important for children to achieve at school, he said.
Local authorities, of course, argue that this is why funding should flow to them – and not directly to schools – because they can take a “whole-system approach”. However, headteachers are clear that the current system for devolving money to schools is “opaque” and “unfit for purpose” – as is the government.
Mr McCabe has until next summer to exercise his self-professed talent for compromise; the government will report then on the outcome of its fair funding for schools consultation.