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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Teacher unions unite over workload
By Gary Eason at the NASUWT conference in Jersey
All three of the big teachers' unions in England and Wales have now backed a joint motion calling for industrial action in support of a maximum 35-hour week.
The motion has been passed by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) annual conference in Jersey.
It calls for the government to hold an independent inquiry into workload and pay and a 35-hour week in England and Wales.
Education ministers are to meet teachers' unions next week to discuss their demands.
The General Secretary of the NASUWT, Nigel de Gruchy said he was pleased with the vote, which only one delegate failed to support.
He told BBC News Online: "I'm delighted with the result. We now get into talks with the government and employers."
The two other big unions which passed the joint motions at their Easter conferences were the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
The Welsh teachers' union UCAC will put the issue to the vote at their conference next month.
The Schools Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, made it clear to delegates the NASUWT conference that she was "not in favour" of a 35-hour week.
"I don't think it's the mark of a profession to campaign for a 35-hour week," she told journalists.
But she said talks would get underway soon: "We do need to meet and the meeting will be next week."
The joint motion denounces the government for failing to tackle teachers' "excessive workload" and welcomes the separate deal agreed by the Scottish Executive for teachers in Scotland, with its 35-hour limit on the working week.
And it threatens industrial action if the government failed to set up an inquiry similar to that of the McCrone committee which led to the Scottish settlement.
Estelle Morris said during a question-and-answer session with delegates: "Don't believe that everything in terms of pay and conditions is better under McCrone than it is here."
But The NASUWT's general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, said his members in Scotland had been 80% in favour of the deal. The arguments for a similar one south of the border were "unassailable".
To some extent the issue of pay had "already been taken on board", he said, with discussions going on almost every week with officials over the way the new, higher pay scale for good classroom teachers should operate.
Ms Morris said teachers' workload could be eased through more classroom and administrative assistants "which are taken for granted in other professions".
Separate talks with the government and the local authority employers will be held on the industrial action on the issue of increased workload caused by teacher shortages, which is being conducted in more than 50 areas following ballots organised by the NUT and NASUWT.
Leaders of both unions agreed to suspend that action after the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said last week that he would go along with the recommendation of the teachers' pay review body, made in January, that there be an inquiry into workload.
The chairman of the local authority employers, Graham Lane, made the first move to end the dispute by offering to discuss paying teachers overtime, or giving them time off in lieu, for covering for absent colleagues.
He said on Tuesday that, however negotiations now went forward, the issue of workload needed to be dealt with quickly because a wider review involving pay could take more than a year.
"Cover to contract" action
The "cover to contract" action has involved teachers refusing to cover vacancies in school staffrooms for more than three days or one day in the case of those known about in advance.
Although this has resulted in pupils being sent home in only a few places, the unions say it has forced schools to find supply teachers or make other arrangements to cover for absent staff.
Nigel de Gruchy, said it had forced the authorities for the first time to quantify teachers' time.
"I don't buy this thing about hours and professionalism. It's complete nonsense," he said in response to Estelle Morris.
Some professions charged by the hour, some by the day. If doctors were required to exceed their contractual duties - for instance by carrying out vaccinations for people going on holiday - they charged extra for it.
"I would be the first to admit that teachers do more, and nothing wrong with that," he said. "But there needs to be a maximum, whereas at the moment it's open-ended."
It was the open-ended nature of the current teachers' contract in England and Wales that had allowed the government to push through its various education initiatives, thereby increasing the workload.
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