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Cut workload or we will block reforms, say heads

Staff shortage and red tape prompt ultimatum. Karen Thornton reports

HEADTEACHERS are threatening to boycott education initiatives unless the next government acts on the teacher shortage and workload.

The two issues will dominate the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference next week - the last of the union conferences before the general election.

Delegates gathering in Harrogate will paint a picture of primary and secondary heads overburdened by bureaucracy, struggling to manage teacher shortages and desperate for protected time to fulfil management responsibilities. But David Hart, the association's general secretary, ruled out a work-to-rule among senior staff along the lines of the classroom unions' action on not covering for absent colleagues or unfilled posts.

Instead, he said that "simply not implementing" future non-essential initiatives would relieve the pressure.

Ministers had already all but conceded that the new key stage 3 strategies for literacy and numeracy would have to be phased in, given staffing problems, he claimed.

"We may end up saying that unless we get the whole issue of workload, pressure, and conditions of service sorted out by the beginning of next year, we might have to advise members to take drastic action.

"Our members have got highly legitimate expectations that have got to be filled -on non-contact time and management support. People at conference will be expecting results. If they are not forthcoming, they are going to be very angry."

However, Mr Hart offered little pre-election comfort to the Opposition. "The vast majority (of heads) will have little truck with the Conservatives' (plan for) free schools. A free-for-all in the market-place is not something many heads would subscribe to," he said.

Meanwhile, Jenny Simpson, president of the association's Hampshire branch, said the recruitment crisis was leading to justified parental complaints about falling standards. Her quick email survey of colleagues drew 50 responses - including one from a head criticised by parents about the quality of supply staff, but who otherwise faced sending children home.

"Heads are having to employ people who perhaps they wouldn't have a few years ago," she said.

The conference looks set to reaffirm its opposition to league tables and call for England and Wales to follow the example set by Northern Ireland, and abolish them. Also on the agenda are parent and pupil assaults on members and performance tables. There will also be calls to shelve key stage 3 targets for pupils.

The major parties will be represented at a fringe meeting, and schools minister Estelle Morris will address the conference on Thursday.


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