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EDITIONS
Monday, 16 April, 2001, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Lib Dems back 35-hour teachers' week
Phil Willis
Phil Willis says Lib Dems do not see the Scottish settlement as a threat
By Sean Coughlan at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Cardiff.

The Liberal Democrats have backed teachers' demands for a maximum 35-hour week.

Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesperson, says that teachers in England and Wales should have the improvements promised to teachers in Scotland.

"The Liberal Democrats do not see the Scottish settlement as a threat - as David Blunkett so obviously does - but an opportunity to re-establish professional values for all teachers," Mr Willis told delegates at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Cardiff.


Don't tell teachers it can't be done, Mr Blair. That is precisely what happens in the very public schools you so often want our schools to aspire to become.

Phil Willis, calling for a 35-hour week for teachers

The 35-hour week "couldn't be achieved overnight", he said after the speech. But he urged the government to put in place long-term planning that would make possible such improvements.

And Mr Willis, a former headteacher until the last general election, also revealed that he had received a personal invitation to come back into teaching.

The Department for Education and Employment had written to former teachers, such as Mr Willis, in an attempt to tackle the teacher shortage by bringing back retired staff.

Mr Willis's call for a reduced workload for teachers will lend further momentum to the campaign for a fundamental review of teachers' pay and conditions.

The NUT has formed an alliance with three other teachers' unions to pursue a campaign in support of a reduced workload and a 35-hour week.

Prospects of balloting

The unions say that if there is no progress towards changing teachers' working conditions, they will begin ballots for industrial action in the autumn.

Mr Willis said that he would neither support nor oppose industrial action, saying that was a decision for teachers' unions.

But he supported the principle of the 35-hour week, saying: "Don't tell teachers it can't be done, Mr Blair. That is precisely what happens in the very public schools you so often want our schools to aspire to become."

Mr Willis also told the conference that a Liberal Democrat government would scrap the Teacher Training Agency, which is responsible for the recruitment and training of teachers.

"The Teacher Training Agency is little more than a quango - a mere extension of the government's arm - a 6m extension," he said.

"Salary steps" sought

Mr Willis also called for the abolition of performance-related pay - and the diversion of a 1bn reserved for performance pay into "salary steps" for all teachers.

The government's introduction of performance related pay was an example of "breathtaking arrogance", he said.

And the attempts to tackle the teacher shortage was so far struggling to get beyond being a "sticking plaster" solution.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman also warned of the "disaster of nightmarish proportions" if the Conservatives were returned to power.

The free schools policy proposed by the Conservative party would see schools reduced to the "law of the jungle", he said.

See also:

15 Apr 01 | UK Education
10 Apr 00 | Teachers Pay
16 Feb 01 | UK Education
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