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The union case for talks on McCrone

The chance to revitalise a demotivated and demoralised profession must not

be neglected, says Malcolm Maciver

THOSE who argue that the report of the McCrone committee on teachers' pay and conditions is nothing other than a rehash of the discredited Millennium Review proposals have either not read the full report or have failed to understand its key recommendations.

For the many thousands of teachers who have by now read the report in full I would hope that, like me, they were impressed by its refreshing style in which the teacher is actually placed at the centre of the educational process. The report itself is devoid of much of the managerialist rhetoric which so characterised the Millennium proposals and, in many ways, is a genuine attempt to address some of the real concerns of a demotivated and demoralised profession.

That is not to say, however, that the McCrone report does not present the Educational Institute of Scotland and its membership with significant problems which will have to be overcome during the implementation talks. In particular, the problems associated with the configuration and structure of the working week and working year will have to be resolved through negotiations.

It is also important to bear in mind that every one of the 45,000 members of the EIS will be balloted at the conclusion of the negotiations at the turn of the year. Nevertheless, the opportunities to re-professionalise the teaching force offered by McCrone must not be allowed to slip through our fingers. The report does represent our best chance in a generation to re-establish the status of teaching in Scotland.

There is a small minority of our members who will attempt to persuade us that we should refuse to participate in the post-McCrone negotiations and use strike action to secure a straight pay rise from next April. This proposition is both politically naive and, I believe, totally unrepresentative of the views and aspirations of the vast majority of teachers.

First, the recommendations contained within the McCrone report have been costed at pound;500 million to pound;600 million and we have no reason to believe that this is unrealistic. Anyone proposing that we walk away from this level of investment in the education service must be able to come up with some very powerful arguments to sustain that position. Thus far I have heard no such argument.

Second, we understand that, privately, both the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Executive are disappointed with the report's recommendations as they believe that their own agendas have not been addressed sufficiently. We need only look south of the border to see that agenda in action. If we walk away from McCrone's proposals now, the collective sigh of relief from those in charge of our education service will almost certainly register on the Beaufort scale.

We must therefore engage fully in the negotiations with view to putting the best possible deal to our members in the ballot. To do otherwise would be to betray not only our members but the education service itself to which thousands of teachers have dedicated their working lives.

The detailed recommendations of the committee of inquiry do, apart from the political considerations of becoming involved in the negotiating process, also require to be given serious attention. Many recommendations are very much in line with EIS policy and will form a significant element of the implementation negotiations.

On pay, McCrone recommends increases in salary for most teachers of around 20 per cent over two years if one includes the settlements of this April and April 2002. There are, however, anomalies for certain promoted posts in schools with smaller rolls. These will have to be addressed during the implementation talks.

The chartered teacher proposals will, if implemented properly, open up new opportunities for dedicated classroom teachers to remain in the classroom and to receive additional remuneration through progression beyond the current maximum point on the common scale.

However, the report makes it clear that there should be no artificial or arbitrary limits on access to the new scale and the key to this will be to ensure that properly organised and accredited in-service and continuing professional development provision will be available to all.

The committee's recommendations that attempt to address the exploitation of temporary contract teachers and the proposal to give all probationer teachers at least one year of stable employment will be pursued vigorously.

It is a sad reflection of our system that we encourage young people to remain in education with a view to securing the qualifications that should provide a stable career while so many teachers, particularly young women, are consigned to years of perpetual casual employment.

There are other very positive elements of the report that will be key to any settlement which may emerge from the negotiating process. Among these are the recommendations on improved early retirement provisions, sabbatical leave, improved staffing (including support staff) and the introduction to schools of senior administrative officers, the equalisation of class contact limits across the sectors and measures to address workload and bureaucracy in schools.

The forthcoming negotiations will not be easy and a number of highly difficult and contentious issues will have to be resolved. Nevertheless, the Executive will have to find the resources required to implement any settlement and if it fails to do so the anger of teachers, parents and pupils, already at unprecedented levels, will explode.

The ball is firmly in Education Minister Sam Galbraith's court.

Malcolm Maciver is convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland's salaries and conditions of service committee.

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