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Final deal cuts contact time

Five of the big six teaching unions are to sign up for workload reforms. Warwick Mansell and Jon Slater report.

AN historic deal to cut teachers' workloads and change working patterns in England and Wales is to be signed next week, but without the support of Britain's largest classroom union.

The biggest changes to teachers' contracts in 15 years, including a free half-day a week for marking and preparation, will be officially accepted on Wednesday by five major teaching associations, but not the National Union of Teachers.

Ministers will now freeze the union out of future talks as nearly two years of negotiations, designed to cut the burdens on teachers and remodel the profession, approach their conclusion.

Headteachers have agreed to the deal despite concerns that some schools will not get enough funding to make it work.

Depite an overall increase of pound;3 billion in schools' budgets, the average primary will not receive enough specific funding for workload to employ a single full-time teaching assistant. NUT opposition centres on plans to allow teaching assistants to take control of classes.

A 22-page draft of next week's agreement including funding details, kept secret by the parties but seen by The TES, lists a seven-point reform programme, including:

* A commitment to cut teachers' overall hours within four years.

* Plans to give every teacher the equivalent of at least a day a fortnight for marking and preparation by 2005 within their weekly or fortnightly timetable.

* A recognition that heads and teachers should have "appropriate" workloads, reflecting their need for "work-life balance".

* A cut in the amount of time spent covering for colleagues, to a maximum of 38 hours a year by 2004.

* The transfer of all non-teaching jobs to support staff by September.

* Guaranteed leadership time for school managers by September.

Local authorities are also to introduce a national five-grade career structure for support staff. Those associations signing the agreement will form part of a workforce monitoring group to oversee its implementation and drop any industrial action over workload. They will also be expected to "promote" the reform plans to their members.

Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary said that the Government might use the plans to cut the teachers' pay bill by allowing schools to substitute classroom assistants for teachers.

"The minister says that's not what this (deal) is about. I don't believe him," said Mr McAvoy who outlines the union's position in this week's TES. The NUT is likely to receive support from the Welsh union UCAC.

Unison, the union representing support staff, said a third of teaching assistants already take classes without a teacher being present.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, welcomed the deal. But heads are concerned that primary and secondary schools can expect just pound;3,000 and pound;13,000 respectively for workload cuts. Employing a full-time teaching assistant costs just under pound;10,000 a year.

Speaking at the North of England Conference, schools minister David Miliband said there would be a pound;1bn increase by 2005-6 in the standards grant given to all schools. This was evidence of the extra cash available to cut workload. A TES survey of 500 Year 6 teachers in October found that most would prefer smaller classes to extra assistance.

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