Saturday, November 21, 1998 Published at 00:43 GMT
Union confirms exam reforms boycott
The Education Minister has a mountain to climb to placate teachers
The executive of Scotland's biggest teachers' union has voted to go ahead with a boycott of the government's Higher Still programme.
Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland had voted by 86% to boycott the reforms of the main pre-university examination.
The institute's executive council has now backed that decision by 48 votes to 27.
Its General Secretary, Ronnie Smith, said the decision reflected the deep concerns of the membership.
"The effect of today's decision is that Higher Still cannot now go ahead in 1999 as planned by the government," he said.
"Despite government assurances, teachers feel inadequately trained, ill-equipped and unprepared for a programme which in most secondary schools would be starting in June 1999 - little over six months away."
Support in principle
He said the "overwhelming majority" of teachers and lecturers supported Higher Still in principle, and he called on the government to "put in place all the necessary arrangements, including funding arrangements, so that Higher Still can start in an orderly way in the year 2000."
Formal notice of the institute's decision will be sent to employers early next week, and its members will begin the boycott with effect from the first week in December.
The Education Minister, Helen Liddell, said she was "disappointed and confused" by the decision.
"Any disruption is unacceptable - especially when so many teachers across the country have worked hard to develop Higher Still - and are keen to get started," she said.
Mrs Liddell is now to seek an urgent meeting with the leaders of the institute to ask them how they plan to honour their so-called commitment to the programme.
"We have already responded to teachers' concerns by providing additional resources of over £24m to help classroom teachers, two extra in-service training days and unprecedented amounts of support materials."
She said implementation of the programme had already been delayed until next August and said too many people would lose out if it was delayed again.
The institute's move came despite the government's setting up, at its instigation, a liaison group to discuss the changes. It includes parents, local authorities, further education colleges and the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association. It is due to meet for the first time on Monday.
"It will be rather bizarre if the only empty seat at the table is the one that should be occupied by those who asked for the group in the first place," Mrs Liddell said.
The Scottish National Party's Education Spokeswoman, Nicola Sturgeon, said Mrs Liddell had only herself to blame for the boycott.
"It is unforgivable that Helen Liddell's intransigence has forced Scottish teachers into this action," she said.
"Not since the late 1980s under the Tories have teachers been pushed so far. This is not even a dispute about teachers' own pay and conditions - it is legitimate concern about the quality of post-16 education in Scotland that has forced teachers into this unfortunate situation."
"By waiting until the EIS ballot had been carried out before announcing limited concessions to teachers, Helen Liddell played fast and loose with the future of Scottish education - and treated Scotland's teachers with contempt."