Cut our workload or we will, says union

NUT fires warning shot at Government by urging its fellow unions to back boycott of non-teaching tasks, report Warwick Mansell and Jon Slater

BRITAIN's biggest classroom union is calling for teachers to work to rule in frustration over the lack of progress in cutting workload.

The National Union of Teachers is seeking the backing of the other classroom unions for action which would involve teachers refusing to carry out a range of non-teaching tasks, from bulk photocopying to collecting money.

The call for action, which would begin on October 1, came as the Government warned that workload, not pay, would be the priority for increased spending over the next three years.

It would involve teachers refusing to do 25 tasks on a government list of things that "should not routinely be carried out by teachers" and is a blunt message to ministers that talks on reducing workload need to start delivering real results. In a newsletter to members, NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy said: "It won't be hard. It'll be easy. Teachers will just say 'No!'."

Negotiations on workload began 18 months ago but have so far had little impact on teachers' day-to-day work.

The NUT said it would not act without support from two other major unions.

Gerald Imerson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "When we get a formal request from the NUT, we will have to look at it very carefully. Teachers need something now. But our worry is that if we do the wrong thing, we could derail the talks at quite a sensitive time," he said.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said progress would have to be made soon.

The Government's formal proposals for cutting workload were first promised for this month but are likely to be delayed until October. They are expected to include guaranteed time for marking and preparation for all staff.

Unions are likely to be further angered by the Department for Education and Skills' evidence to the School Teachers' Review Body, which is considering pay and conditions to 2006.

The evidence was expected to emphasise the 15 per cent increase in teachers' salaries since 1997 and to point out that the Government's main goal is to cut the demands on teachers, not introduce major increases in their pay. "Pay has risen significantly since 1997 and the priority is to tackle teacher workload," said a government source.

Ministers have earmarked part of the pound;15 billion extra given to education in the summer spending review for workload reduction. But that does not come on stream until next April. Technically, the NUT's move, outlined in its newsletter to members this week, simply re-iterates a position it adopted with the NASUWT in 1998. But publicising it again represents an attempt by the union to step up pressure on the Government and respond to growing frustration among members.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said that any action would be "totally premature" and that many schools still did not have enough adequately trained support staff to take on many of these tasks.

The NUT is under pressure from left-wing members to deliver a 35-hour week. All three unions have reserved the right to take industrial action if the workload discussions do not satisfy them.

John Bangs, the NUT's head of education, said: "We want to give teachers a sign that something positive is taking place on workload."

A government spokesman said the action was a matter for the NUT, but ministers hope that all schools will move towards relieving teachers of these tasks.

JUST SAY NO

Ten of the 25 tasks that should not be done by teachers:

* Chasing absences

* Record-keeping and filing

* Classroom displays

* Administering work experience

* Invigilating exams

* Administering teacher cover

* ICT trouble shooting

* Ordering supplies and equipment

* Minuting meetings

* Managing pupil data

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