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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 13:32 GMT
Teachers turning up as action spreads
Efforts are being made to keep teachers in front of classes
One of the unions involved in industrial action over teacher shortages in England says it is having the desired effect - as teachers in three more areas have voted to join the action.

Members of the NUT and the NASUWT in Kent, Manchester and Reading have voted to join the "cover to contract" campaign, refusing to cover unfilled vacancies.

The unions say the turnout averaged 36% and the vote for action was 91.5%.

Teachers in London and Doncaster began their action this week and are about to be joined by others in Middlesbrough, Leicester, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Southampton, with other ballots taking place.

The NASUWT's general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said: "Early indications from both London and Doncaster show that extra supply teachers are being found, in some cases 'miraculously' according to one local representative.

"In that case the action is succeeding. If it secures more supply teachers then the immediate demands of the action are met.

"However, these are only short-term remedies. The chief inspector has already reported that children's education is being damaged by an excessive reliance upon supply teachers."

Action deplored

The teachers' action was condemned by the chairman of the Common's education select committee, Labour MP Barry Sheerman.

Speaking during education questions in Commons, he asked the Schools Standards Minister, Estelle Morris if she would deplore with him any action by teachers' unions which would "actually damage the possibility of students in our schools getting a decent standard of education".

"And would she also deplore the annual charade - prior to the Easter conferences - that teachers go through that damages the respect and esteem and prestige that so many of us have been trying to build up for the teaching profession?" he asked.

In response, Ms Morris said: "Teachers who don't stay in the classroom to teach children do nothing for those children, do nothing to raise standards and indeed give a false impression of what the profession is about."

But she had every confidence that teachers would not take industrial action, she added.

School sends pupils home

Ballots have also been going on in a number of individual schools with problems, rather than whole education authorities.

Of the 60 members of staff at the troubled Holywells High School in Ipswich, 19 have voted to take action.

The head teacher, Barrie Whelpton, had already notified parents that he would have to send children home next week.

He is cutting lessons from 40 periods a week to 34 for some pupils because he has been unable to fill vacancies for English, science, technology, music and dance teachers.

"The industrial action did have a bearing on us because it would make finding cover a little more difficult again," he said.

"I have sympathy with them on this one - it's a difficult enough job as it is so if you have to cover for vacancies on top, it could push certain teachers over the limit in terms of their health and worsen the problem."

New staff starting

The school, which is in special measures after failing an Ofsted inspection, had to postpone its re-opening after the Christmas break because it was short of staff and has since been sending some pupils to the local sports centre in the afternoon when there were no staff available.

Five staff are on long-term sick leave. The Department for Education said it was trying to help resolve the problem.

Mr Whelpton said he hoped the timetable cuts would be necessary only until Easter, as he has recruited some new staff to start in the summer term.

Mr de Gruchy said reports from London suggested school trips might be cancelled because of the difficulties of providing cover.

"In-service training courses and even the required release of newly qualified teachers for induction are coming under pressure because of the difficulties of finding supply cover.

"Reports from elsewhere indicate that many permanent vacancies have at last been filled by emergency arrangements prompted by the impending 'cover to contract' action.

"Far from wanting schools to go on part-time education, teachers will be delighted to see their action yielding results to everyone's benefit."

The shadow education secretary, Theresa May, said: "The government must get a grip urgently on the shortages before the problem spirals out of control and tens of thousands of children suffer irreparable damage to their education."

See also:

02 Mar 01 | Education
More ballots on teacher shortages
15 Mar 01 | Scotland
Teacher shortages predicted
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