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Gloomy outlook for long summer holidays

THE seven-week summer break - teachers' most treasured benefit and their antidote to excessive workload - is coming under increasing threat from local authorities and parents. Both are pressing for a significant cut to make way for professional development and training.

Glasgow wants a reduction of three weeks and North Ayrshire two to reduce disruption caused by attendance at courses. They argue it is impossible to deliver education agendas in the present strait-jacket of a 35-hour week and 39-week working year.

Parent leaders have also backed a cut of two weeks - for teachers only - to allow for more flexibility. Before the contract changes of the mid-80s, teachers had two more weeks in school, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council has already noted.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities retreated from some of the more contentious aspects of the failed Millennium Review talks in its submission to the McCrone inquiry on pay and conditions, carefully avoiding specific reference to shorter holidays.

Cosla confined itself to the view that the current divisions of the working week and year have "no parallel in any other occupation" and are "fundamentally incompatible" with the good organisation of the education service.

But Ken Corsar, Glasgow's director of education, last week told the city's education committee that there was a need to think more radically. "Many of the submissions tend to run over old ground and not open up new avenues, however difficult they seem on paper. Yes, there are difficulties if the working year is extended to allow for professional and curricular development opportunities," Mr Corsar said.

Glasgow proposes that teachers should lose three weeks' holidayout of 13 to further training and curriculum development, in return for salary rises of more than pound;1,800. Officials argue that an 8 per cent increase in wok would justify a straight 8 per cent rise before any catch-up or inflation award is added.

All new staff would be placed on new terms, along with any other teacher who wanted to volunteer, to ease the transition.

As part of the package, the summer holiday would be cut to four weeks, with three other two-week holidays spread evenly throughout the year. The start of each new term could begin with a week's preparation and development for teachers, the city contends.

Mr Corsar said an extension of the working year would recognise the extra work already done by many teachers and alleviate the problems caused by cramming too much into 39 weeks. Up to four weeks of in-service training instead of one would ease the "crushing weight" of implementing 5-14 and Higher Still.

But Willie Hart, Educational Institute of Scotland local secretary, warned he was "not necessarily enamoured" with some of the solutions. "Unless people are realistic and key areas are acceptable to teachers, we are going to be back here next year going over this ground again," Mr Hart said.

Professional autonomy, a key union demand, would not be enhanced by extending the working year and he re-emphasised opposition to "open-ended time at management control".

Over the past 20 years, teachers' only protection against excessive workload was the existing contract, despite the directors' claim that it had proved ineffective. "Teachers will not buy something which does not give them the degree of protection the present contract does just now," Mr Hart said.

However, Christopher Mason, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, replied: "If the EIS thinks the population of Scotland is going to rise up in outrage at the working year being extended from 39 to 42 weeks compared with their 47, 49 or 50 weeks, think again. This is not an issue that will play with the public."

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