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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Date for talks on teachers' workload
estelle morris
Estelle Morris at the NASUWT conference
Teachers' industrial action over staff shortages in England is to be suspended formally next week.

Leaders of the two biggest classroom unions, the NUT and the NASUWT, have agreed to go ahead with the suspension at a time which will coincide with their first talks with the government on the scope of its inquiry into teachers' workload.

They are scheduled for 3pm on Tuesday 1 May.

The move came after the government agreed finally to the recommendation of the teachers' pay review body, made in January, that there should be an independent inquiry into teachers' workload.

The unions passed a joint resolution at their Easter conferences - as did the other main union, the ATL - demanding the inquiry be widened to include pay levels and salary structure.

Action threat

If the government did not set up such an inquiry or "take other appropriate measures", the unions agreed they would take "effective action" short of a strike, initially to limit teachers' working time to no more than 35 hours a week.

But when the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, attended the NASUWT conference last Tuesday she made it clear in a news conference she regarded a limit on the working week as being not something professionals should be seeking.

The union's leader, Nigel de Gruchy, completely rejects that, saying some professions charge by the hour or the day.

The original impetus for the joint motion in England and Wales was the report of the McCrone Committee in Scotland last year, which led to this year's agreement on a 35-hour working week.

Limit 'is the norm'

As long ago as 1986 an earlier report in Scotland said the working week for planning purposes should be 35 hours.

The NASUWT says teachers in most developed countries have a limit to their working hours. So the scene is set for some hard bargaining in the weeks ahead.

Estelle Morris accepts that teachers' workload has gone up as a result of government policies.

"To manage great change and improvement is tough for anybody who is working in the service. That has been achieved but it has meant huge extra work for teachers," she said on ITV's Dimbleby programme.

"What we set about four years ago was the modernisation of the teaching profession and education and we are delivering, but I absolutely accept it has brought great stress on teachers."

Members of the NUT and NASUWT in more than 50 areas have been "covering to contract" - refusing to fill in for absent colleagues - to press their case for recognition of the extra workload caused by staff shortages.

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See also:

23 Apr 01 | Features
The 35-hour teachers' week
19 Apr 01 | Education
Teachers' campaign for 35-hour week
17 Apr 01 | Education
Talks on workload inquiry imminent
12 Feb 01 | Scotland
Teachers back pay deal
09 Apr 01 | Education
Teachers want action on 35-hour week
09 Apr 01 | Education
Overworked? A teacher's story
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