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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 00:48 GMT
Joint demand over teachers' workload
In what they call "an unprecedented move" the four main teachers' organisations affiliated to the TUC have united to call for an independent inquiry into pay and conditions of service in England and Wales.
The four - the ATL, NASUWT, the NUT and UCAC - represent most of the 500,000 teachers and many head teachers in schools throughout England and Wales.
The motion condemns ministers and the School Teachers Review Body, which advises them on pay and conditions, "for their repeated failure to take effective action to remove the excessive workload which makes unreasonable and unacceptable demands upon teachers".
"The very fact that there is this common motion illustrates the seriousness of the crisis facing our schools," said the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Doug McAvoy.
"Teachers will be heartened that our four organisations are acting in concert to protect them," he said.
"The government cannot dismiss this as teacher union rhetoric. The message is that teachers mean business."
At Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru (UCAC), Edwyn Williams said: "There is a real need to cut down on the excessive workload of teachers especially the limitation of a teacher's working week and the need for guaranteed marking and preparation time.
"It's time for the government to listen to the profession. Excessive workload is probably the main reason that graduates are put off from following a career in teaching."
And Nigel de Gruchy of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) said it had given a warning last summer that a fair contract setting sensible limits on the overall demands on teachers was essential and the only way of "consigning run-away bureaucracy to the dustbin it deserves".
"The government, together with the School Teachers' Review Body, failed lamentably to respond to our legitimate concerns. NASUWT warned that this would lead to action setting our own limits. Ministers cannot profess surprise."
The unions also want a phased introduction of a maximum classroom teaching time of 22.5 hours a week and a simpler pay scale that would see most teachers able to reach a salary of £35,000.
A survey by the pay review body in March 2000 suggested an average total of 52.8 hours worked by primary classroom teachers - two hours more than in 1996 and four hours more than in 1994.
The unions are pointing to the recent pay and conditions deal in Scotland as a way forward.
Following an inquiry, the Scottish Executive agreed that teachers would get a pay rise of at least 21.5% by the summer of 2003.
An extra 4,000 new teachers will be taken on to reduce the time they spend in class to 22.5 hours a week, within a maximum week of 35 hours.
One of the comments made by observers at the time was that most Scottish teachers are represented by one organisation - the Educational Institute of Scotland - unlike the fragmentation of membership in England and Wales.
In coming together, the unions are rebuffing the appeal from the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, that they should work with him to solve the problem of teacher recruitment rather than "talk it up".
They in turn have been annoyed by the government's refusal to accept the word "crisis" to describe the shortage of teachers.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said it was working hard to make teaching a more attractive profession.
"Pay and prospects have been reformed and teachers have just had the best pay deal since 1992 and this is making a difference," she said.
There were almost 2,300 more people training to be teachers compared with a year ago and recruitment to initial teacher training was up for the first time for eight years.
The amount of departmental paperwork going to schools had also been cut, by 40% for primaries and 66% for secondaries, she said.
And billions of pounds was being spent on improving school buildings.
The four unions have asked the two main head teachers' associations to support them.
But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It would create massive dislocation in schools and dangerously antagonise parents, governors and school communities which are broadly supportive at the moment on the problems of workload, stress and bureaucracy which beset the profession."
The government would never agree to an independent inquiry because the School Teachers Review Body had been created specifically to deal with such issues, he added.
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