Helen Liddell in the Press

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Liddell canes EIS over school reform


RELATIONS between New Labour and Scotland's biggest teaching union reached a new low last night over the Government's controversial proposals for making the country's schooling the best in the world.

An angry Mrs Helen Liddell, the Scottish Education Minister - widely believed to be the architect of the proposals - attacked EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith for making "ill-informed" criticisms of the plans.

The White Paper has gone out for consultation but Mrs Liddell said Mr Smith's remarks were no basis for a discussion on its merits or otherwise.

He had claimed a devolved Scottish Parliament was being asked to consider proposals to train aspiring head teachers for a new qualification at an English college and denounced the "centralising" thrust of a White Paper that aped the English agenda at a time when Scotland was progressing towards Home Rule.

Mrs Liddell said the English college was merely an example of best practice.

The vision for Scottish education includes using hit squads to tackle failing schools, making it easier to sack incompetent teachers, and modernising the role of the classroom teacher.

Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar outlined plans to reform the current machinery for negotiating teachers' pay and negotiations - just a day after teachers' pay talks broke up with no agreement on the horizon.

Mr Dewar's proposals to review the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee and put teachers' employment contracts on a par with other local authority employees were condemned by teaching unions as an attempt to put a gun to their heads in the current negotiations.

Central to the theme of the White Paper - and indeed to the Millennium Review negotiations on teachers' pay and conditions - was a theme of modernisation.

Launching the White Paper at St Andrew's Secondary School at Carntyne in Glasgow, Mr Dewar said Scotland had a strong tradition in education but could not afford to be complacent. He identified targets for Labour's education programme should it hold power in the Scottish Parliament.

These included teaching standards, particularly those in S1 and S2, problems in writing ability identified in a recent inspectors' report, the need for strong leadership by head teachers, pre-school education, inspection not only of schools but also education authorities, parent-school relationships, and social inclusion initiatives through community schools

New measures included improvements to teacher training, regular teacher appraisal, reforms of disciplinary procedures for incompetent teachers, a mandatory qualification for aspiring head teachers, and the power to send in experts to a school that was still failing to achieve targets despite intervention by school inspectors and education authority officials.

Mr Michael O'Neill, president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, welcomed many of the initiatives but described the hit squad proposal as "badly thought through". The idea a group of strangers could walk in and somehow create an atmosphere that would lead to a change was bizarre, he said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Nicol Stephen, said reform without resources was meaningless. The SNP's spokeswoman, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, claimed Labour's proposals encapsulated "the divisive teacher-bashing approach of Helen Liddell, Scotland's departing Education Minister" and for the Tories, Mr Brian Monteith said Mrs Liddell was consulting on pay bargaining and disciplining bad teachers instead of giving teachers an inspiring salary structure and giving the General Teaching Council real teeth. - Jan 28