For almost a year now, the Scottish Tories have been promising a ‘New Deal for Teachers’. The phrase has popped up in press releases, political soundbites and tweets – but actual details have been surprisingly difficult to come by.

The section of the party website dedicated to education policy contains just three items, and none of them are the text of the deal apparently being offered to teachers. Searching the website itself for the phrase “New Deal for Teachers” brings up zero results.

Parliamentarians haven’t had much more luck. Back in January, Michelle Thomson MSP asked to see a copy of the plan and was told she would receive one, but this had not happened. According to Thomson, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) also asked the Tories for a copy of the document, only to be told that the party’s press office was unaware of it.

I can, however, confirm that the Tories’ New Deal for Teachers does exist. I know this because, despite all of the problems the party seems to have had in getting copies to people, they managed to send one to me just a few hours after I asked for it.

It contains eight specific(ish) pledges following on from a section entitled “Our Message”. Here, the Tories say that “Scottish teachers have been undervalued by the SNP” and that a lack of resources and support have limited their ability to get on with their job.

But how do they plan to fix it? What exactly are the Tories offering in their New Deal for Teachers, are their proposals worth pursuing, and do we need to know anything else about their plans?

1. The Scottish Conservatives will pay teachers for holding extra-curricular activities and lunchtime classes.
These activities can be widespread from sports clubs to crafts clubs and science groups. These clubs can take place before school, at lunchtime or after school.

Is it a good idea? I don’t think many teachers would complain about this. Everyone knows how much pupils benefit from a wide range of extra-curricular provision

What else do we need to know? How much do they want to pay teachers for these activities, and will the amount vary depending upon the nature of the activities or the time in which it is taking place? How much do they expect all of this to cost nationally, and where will that money come from?

2. The Scottish Conservatives will provide teachers with greater freedom to teach.
The Scottish Conservatives will cut all red tape in schools to reduce the amount of paperwork and administration that teachers have to do. This will provide teachers with greater freedom to educate and ensure that their valuable time is not wasted by bureaucracy.

Is it a good idea? Bureaucracy is the bane of many teachers’ existence, and a huge part of the workload problems that plague the profession

What else do we need to know? What does the proposal actually mean? When they say they will “cut all red tape”, what are they actually talking about? Will teachers no longer need to keep a register? Are we going to abolish the documentation around support plans for those with additional support needs? Are we going to stop PVG checks on staff?

It’s really easy to make a proclamation like that one, but it tends to be far harder to be specific about what information and processes will and will not be scrapped.

3. The Scottish Conservatives will reduce contact hours for teachers from 22.5 hours to 18.5 hours a week.
A central pillar of the Scottish Conservatives New Deal for Teachers will be reducing contact time for teachers to 18.5 hours a week – the OECD average. This will give teachers the ability to prepare high quality classes for their pupils and ensure they can devote more time to providing high quality education.

Is it a good idea? It’s not just a good idea, it’s THE good idea. In fact, it’s such a good idea that I included it in my book, Class Rules, in a section that, funnily enough, was titled A New Deal for Teachers.

What else do we need to know? How many teachers do the Tories think would be required to deliver this promise, and how much would that cost? Also, how would they address the fact that it is far harder to cut contact time in some contexts than it is in others? How do you reduce the contact time of, for example, the only music teacher in a small rural school – do you have non-specialists covering some of the music classes, or do you hugely overstaff the music department?

Read more: Here's what happened when I investigated the SNP education plan

4. The Scottish Conservatives will introduce and encourage Secondary teachers to take sabbaticals for continuing professional development.
As industry, software, and teaching practices change, the Scottish Conservatives will introduce sabbaticals for teachers to undertake continuing professional development to them to keep up to date with the latest innovations and best practice.

Is it a good idea? This is a very interesting idea and another one that is also explored in my book, where I refer specifically to the Australian model – in the state of Victoria, teachers can defer twenty percent of their salary for between one and four years, and then have that money paid to them during a sabbatical period of up to a year.

What else do we need to know? How would this work in practice? There are several different models but the variations between them have enormous implications. Would teachers be free to decided how to use their sabbatical time or would a Tory government wish to restrict their options?

If in government, how would they deal with the temporary vacancies that would be created by this policy, especially when they are also promising that their New Deal for Teachers will end the “culture of temporary contracts” in Scottish education.

And, of course, how are they going to pay for it?

5. The Scottish Conservatives will introduce competitive salaries for teachers in specialist subjects.
In order to create a contemporary workforce, fit for the technical revolution, we must ensure that computing science and other STEM subjects are treated as equally important as English and other languages. The Scottish Conservatives will therefore offer competitive salaries to attract more industry professionals into teaching core subjects such as computing science and STEM.

Is it a good idea? The Tories seem to want to show they’re treating STEM teachers equally by paying them more than other subjects, which doesn’t seem to be a particularly coherent position to adopt. Paying certain teachers more might, in the simplest possible terms, seem like a possible solution, but it is completely unworkable and could seriously destabilise the profession. It would also, inevitably, lead some to call for differential pay between primary and secondary teachers, which is something else to be avoided.

What else do we need to know? If this made it into the New Deal for Teachers, how bad were some of the ideas they rejected?

6. The Scottish Conservatives will launch a campaign to attract the best people into teaching.
The teaching workforce in Scotland needs to be more diverse and encourage teachers to come from with from different career paths and not just through the education system. The Scottish Conservatives will therefore launch a campaign to attract more people into teaching who would not normally consider teaching as a career path.

Is it a good idea? Yeah, sure, why not encourage people to become teachers?

What else do we need to know? What exactly do they mean by “the best people”? What sort of people “who would not normally consider teaching as a career path” do they have in mind? Would the process for achieving this also involve, for example, consideration of controversial fast-track systems like Teach First?

7. The Scottish Conservatives will launch a review into teaching career structures with a view to  radically change it.
The career structure for teachers in Scotland is broken and needs radical change. It cannot be right that after five years a teacher reaches their top earning potential unless they want to leave the classroom and enter management. The Scottish Conservatives will therefore undertake a review of the career structure for teachers to ensure that they can receive improved pay after five years while remaining in the classroom. The Scottish Conservatives will also review and enhance the leadership training that teachers receive to ensure that they can be school and community advocates.

Is it a good idea? Once again, yes – and once again, this is something I argue for in my book. For those who didn’t get in to teaching to get out of the classroom, there are few genuinely development career pathways available. What’s more, classrooms teachers hit the top of their professional pay-scale after five years, meaning that there is no reward for continuous, long-term service.

What else do we need to know? The Tories are specifically promising to “undertake a review of the career structure for teachers”, so would perhaps seek to address the key questions about what changes are needed at that point. Either way, though, changes aren’t going to come cheap, so at a minimum we need to know if the party is committed to the increases in public spending that would be required to make this sort of radical change a reality.

8. The Scottish Conservatives will launch a community contributors programme.
Local communities contain some of the most inspirational and talented individuals who can inspire young people. The Scottish Conservatives believe this local talent should be harnessed within our local schools. We will therefore launch a community teacher programme to bring these community leaders into school and share their expertise and knowledge.

Is it a good idea? It’s another one of those things that almost everyone says they want, but almost nobody provides specifics about what they really mean. In principle, finding way to help schools tap into local resources is a good thing and something that could, potentially, help to improve Scottish education. 

What else do we need to know? What do they mean by “community teacher programme”? Is the idea that these local people will be put in sole charge of classes full of young people, or take over some of the responsibilities of qualified teachers? What sort of qualifications might be required, and who would oversee the programme?

Scottish Conservative deputy education spokesperson, Roz McCall MSP said: “For 16 years the SNP have failed our teachers, ignored their concerns and let educational standards plummet.

“The Scottish Conservatives’ New Deal for Teachers will provide teachers with the vital resources they need to improve school standards, which have significantly declined under the SNP’s watch.

“The SNP would have more money to spend on education, and all our public services, if they hadn’t presided over years of stagnant growth or wasted money on pet projects and failed infrastructure. The Scottish Conservatives’ plans to invest in education would ensure that teachers are supported in delivering a quality education to Scotland’s young people.”