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Cutting day short helps to ease the workload burden

the Education Secretary has said staff are entitled to a reasonable work-life balance - now two Bristol primary heads are taking him at his word.

From September, Summerhill infant and juniors proposes to send pupils home an hour early on Wednesdays. This will give teachers space for marking and planning. The lost hour will be made up elsewhere in the week. Last month Charles Clarke pledged that, from September, schools should ensure that staff have a reasonable work-life balance.

In a letter to parents, Summerhill heads Alison Laing and Chris Galliott said: "The reasons for the proposed change are to follow government guidelines of workforce reform and help us have work-life balance."

Parents, unsurprisingly, are worried about their own work-life balance.

They say juggling a family and a job is hard enough without having to collect children an hour earlier.

The local education authority is also uneasy and says that schools must take parents' needs into account and that any changes will only be justified if they improve standards.

The unions' reaction is mixed. A National Union of Teachers spokesman said:

"Primary teachers work day in and day out without any guaranteed preparation time. Having a reduction in the school day is a very good idea."

But Philip Parkin, chair of the Professional Association of Teachers' professional services committee, said: "I wouldn't condemn the schools without knowing their reasons, but I don't see what this achieves. But, if it gives communication time between support staff and teachers, perhaps it's a good thing."

The Department for Education and Skills says that schools must consult over hours changes. A spokesman added: "There's no question of the workplace reforms being used to shorten the school week."

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