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Friday, 13 April, 2001, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
Teachers' workload to be reviewed
classroom scene
Teachers' big complaint is workload, not pay
Teachers' unions have agreed to suspend their work to rule over staff shortages in England, having won a government promise of an independent review of the issue.

The executive of the biggest union, the NUT, decided to suspend the action by 23 votes to 19 at a meeting in Cardiff on the eve of the union's annual conference there.

There have been protests from members of the executive who had wanted to continue the action.

The other big classroom union involved, the NASUWT, decided last month it would suspend the action, but then said it had to act in concert with the NUT.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said: "I welcome today's confirmation that the NUT and NASUWT have suspended their industrial action. This is good news for pupils across England.

This is good news for pupils across England

David Blunkett
"I will now commission an independent review to identify more clearly problems of excessive workload and suggest practical ways in which we can tackle them together."

In practice the work to rule remains in force until the unions' leaders instruct their members to suspend it, which is likely to happen after the Easter break.

It has affected more than 50 areas, following local ballots of union members.

Although a few schools have had to send children home, the effect has not been as widespread as some had feared.

doug mcavoy
Doug McAvoy: "The action could be resumed"
It has involved a refusal by teachers to cover for absent colleagues for more than three days - or one day in the case of vacancies known about in advance.

The local authority employers last month offered to consider giving teachers overtime payments and time off to compensate them for their extra work.

The government said it was prepared to look at workload - if the action was called off.

The NUT demanded further clarification of what this would involve, which it says it is now happy with.

Review body yet to be decided

It said the review would take into account all aspects of teachers' "deployment", the resulting workload, and the effects on the recruitment and retention of staff and the status of the profession.

Teachers' contract
1,265 hours a year
minimum 195 days
"such other duties as are necessary"
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said a meeting would be convened after Easter between government, unions and employers to discuss the terms of reference for the review.

The department had ruled out pay as part of this discussion, but was not ruling out any aspect of workload. That included the possibility of a 35-hour week, the spokesperson said - although other sources have indicated that the government does not think that is feasible.

The review will be headed by an independent organisation, but the department has refused to speculate on which.

If the NUT resumed its action, the talks would be off, the spokesperson said. Both unions have said their action will be resumed if the talks fail to produce a satisfactory deal.

Scottish model

Teachers' unions have wanted an independent review of pay and conditions similar to that carried out in Scotland, where teachers have won a deal which will move them to a 35-hour working week.

Four classroom unions - the NUT, NASUWT, ATL and Welsh union UCAC, together representing about half a million teachers - are considering a joint resolution on this issue at their annual conferences, which includes a threat of further industrial action.

children leaving Holywells School
A few schools have had to send children home
But the NUT general secretary, Doug McAvoy, told journalists in Cardiff that if the terms of the inquiry agreed to by the government were far-reaching enough, it could mean there would be no need for that separate inquiry.

He is rejecting suggestions that the decision to suspend industrial action should have been considered by the annual conference, which begins on Friday. The final decision had been taken, he said.

"The national executive has decided to suspend the action. It has done so in accordance with our rules. For the conference to be given the opportunity to say something different would not be in accordance with our rules," he said.

Protest letter

"We have suspended the action to allow talks and that is what the vast majority of our members and of teachers generally would want us to do."

But a letter of protest is circulating at the conference from members of the union's executive who voted against suspending the action.

One of them, Linda Taasse, said she did not believe there was anything real on offer for teachers.

There was a review of pay and conditions every year by the School Teachers Review Body, and what the government was offering looked like being just "a glorified version" of that.

What teachers had been doing - working to the terms of their contract - should not disrupt children's education, she argued.

Parents she had spoken to did not want their children "shunted around" between classes because there were not enough teachers.

Under the terms of their contract, teachers in England and Wales must work under the direction of their head teacher for 1,265 hours a year, for a minimum of 195 days.

But the clause which most annoys teachers says they must carry out "such other duties as are necessary for the performance of their professional responsibilities" - which they say leaves them open to excessive demands on their time.

The BBC's Rory MacLean
"The industrial action could be reinstated if there isn't enough movement in talks"
NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy
"The executive took its decision last night"
Click for more on England's teacher shortage

News and reaction

Recruitment effort


See also:

12 Apr 01 | UK Education
09 Apr 01 | UK Education
09 Apr 01 | UK Education
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