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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 13:38 GMT
Teachers' unions 'blocking reform'
Estelle Morris:
Estelle Morris: No mood to compromise
Teachers have been warned by Education Secretary Estelle Morris not to return to the "dark ages of dispute and conflict" in the classroom.

Her stark message came ahead of members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) voting overwhelmingly to stage a one-day strike over pay allowances.

The minister attacked teachers' unions for "putting a block on change and reform".

My challenge to unions is to work with us - the alternative is to return to the dark ages of dispute and conflict

Estelle Morris

"It would be tragic if the irresponsible action of a few damaged the impact of work already achieved to build a teaching profession that is the source of national pride and the envy of the world," she said.

"My challenge to unions is to work with us. The alternative is to return to the dark ages of dispute and conflict."

The minister is also facing rebellion from head teachers.

They are threatening to boycott a performance related pay scheme for senior teachers, claiming the government's funding for it jeopardises school budgets.

Estelle Morris needs to address the issue rather than the generalised points that she's made which really are about shooting the messenger

John Bangs

David Hart, of the National Association of Head Teachers, told the BBC that they supported performance management to reward good teachers.

"But if you are given about 50% at best of the money you need you have got to raid the rest of the budget and I don't think parents will understand that - and our members are not prepared to do it."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, defended his members.

"The pursuit of high standards in our schools is more at risk from this ill-judged, half-funded reform than from its boycott by head teachers, from which no child's education will suffer."

Ms Morris is said to be "frustrated and puzzled" by the NUT ballot on a one-day strike on 14 March over the issue of London weighting allowances.

Members of the NUT voted by 86 per cent for the strike in protest at the level of allowances paid to teachers working in London and surrounding areas, it was announced on Tuesday afternoon.

The head teachers' union says school budgets are threatened

But the education secretary argues teachers in London have had a 35% rise in allowances since Labour came to power. A teacher's starting salary there will soon be 20,000.

John Bangs, of the NUT, said it was not enough and that she should be helping teachers to live in the capital rather than attacking unions .

"Estelle Morris needs to address the issue rather than the generalised points that she's made which really are about shooting the messenger," he said.

The union's general secretary Doug McAvoy said teachers would take strike action as a "last resort".

Responding to Ms Morris's speech, he said: ""Teachers in London who take action next week will do so to alert parents to the damage inflicted on pupils and students by teacher shortages and the massive turnover of teachers".

Ms Morris's tough approach ahead of the "conference season" - when the main teachers' unions hold their annual gatherings - is intended as a challenge.

Shadow Education Secretary, Damian Green accused Ms Morris of trying to "blame teachers for her own mistakes".

"To drive head teachers to a ballot on industrial action, which has never happened before, is amazingly inept," he said.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Estelle Morris has warned teachers not to stand in the way of reform"
Education Secretary, Estelle Morris
"It is not as if we haven't put extra resources into recruitment and retention"
David Hart, National Assoc. of Head Teachers
"We want to reward good teachers"

Talking PointFORUM
Teachers' strike
NUT head quizzed about London walkout
See also:

05 Mar 02 | Education
Capital's teachers vote for walkout
21 Feb 02 | Education
Heads balloted on action over funding
23 Jan 02 | Education
Teachers to get 3.5% pay rise
21 Sep 01 | Education
Teachers 'against' performance pay
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