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NASUWT leader, Nigel de Gruchy
"Teachers have had enough"
 real 28k

Monday, 15 January, 2001, 13:26 GMT
Union to act on teacher shortages
nigel de gruchy
Nigel de Gruchy: "Reasonable action"
Leaders of one of the big unions for teachers have authorised ballots on industrial action in schools and whole areas of England where there are staff shortages.

We are not going to have imposition after imposition and keep covering for ever more because the government can't find enough teachers

Union leader Nigel de Gruchy
The action by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers would involve its members refusing to cover vacant posts for more than three days.

The union says shortages are putting teachers under intolerable pressure.

The government accuses it of making matters worse.

The NASUWT's national officers, at their regular monthly meeting in Rednal, near Birmingham, considered a report from the general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, with details from union branches on the situation in their areas.

Afterwards, a spokesman said they had given authority for ballots to be held where "significant teacher shortages" were reported - either in individual schools or in whole areas.


The move to possible area-wide ballots adds a new dimension to the situation.

Mr de Gruchy said afterwards that there was no question of teachers going on strike - the action would be confined to teachers refusing to cover for unfilled posts beyond the three days required in their contracts.

"So we will be reasonable, but we are not going to have imposition after imposition and keep covering for ever more because the government can't find enough teachers to fill all the gaps," he said.

"While the government claims there is little local problem, headteachers and members of NASUWT complain of widespread problems.

"The government cannot have it both ways. If it is not a crisis, then there will not be much need for NASUWT action.

"If, however, there is more of a crisis than a 'problem' then the extent of that will be well illustrated by the proposed action."

The NASUWT is to meet the biggest union, the NUT, to co-ordinate their approach "on furthering action on this issue".

Problems in the North

Brian Garvey, the NASUWT official for West and North Yorkshire, said this was the first year he could recall having shortages on his patch.

Like the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, he thinks the chief problem is the buoyant economy.

"If you can get as much money as in teaching elsewhere then why stand for the abuse and hassle that teaching involves?" he said.

He had someone phone him for the first time last term, saying she was quitting teaching after only a couple of months in the job.

"She was disillusioned," he said. "It wasn't what she thought it was going to be."

Although the government points to its success in recruiting a wider range of people into teaching, Mr Garvey thinks this can backfire.

"A lot of those coming in now are older people... who have this idea of schools as they were in the past, when there was some co-operation between the vast majority of kids and the staff.

"Now of course a lot of kids have a different attitude."

Minister's anger

The union is using the ballot process to raise the profile of the issue.

In the Commons on Thursday, David Blunkett again rejected Opposition charges of a "crisis".

"I'd be interested to know how many vacancies exist in the NASUWT, who far from actually helping to resolve the problem, are deliberately trying to make it worse," he said.

Official figures show the vacancy rate for teachers in England and Wales is less than 1%.

But that does not take into account those on a short-term contract, and unions are also concerned that many schools are relying on stop-gap measures such as teachers having to cover for unfilled posts or sick leave.

Mr de Gruchy responded: "It's pretty rich for David Blunkett to accuse me of making the crisis worse when I have spent the last three years trying to persuade him to take measures which would have avoided the problems in the first place."

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See also:

12 Jan 01 | Education
Head teachers hard to replace
08 Jan 01 | Education
Four-day week fears 'exaggerated'
03 Jan 01 | Education
Four-day week threat in schools
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