Ministers are to review the paid time-off that teachers receive to carry out union work, in a move that is likely to place even greater strain on relations between government and the profession.
Under current legislation, trade union reps are given time away from their regular jobs to undertake union tasks, such as negotiating pay and working conditions and representing members in grievance cases.
While the Department for Education (DfE) states that is not proposing any changes to the law, it says it is examining what is “reasonable” for teachers to take off, claiming some union representatives spend 100 per cent of their time outside of the classroom.
The decision will further inflame union leaders’ anger, with the NUT and NASUWT already proposing two regional and one national strike over pensions, pay and working conditions this term.
The DfE announced today that it was launching a call for evidence from employers, school leaders, teachers and members of the public about facility time.
It claimed that in one area 10 full-time classroom teacher union reps were paid £400,000 in 2011/12.
In a statement this morning, schools minister David Laws said:“We need to ensure that all public spending is used effectively and gets through to the front-line. There are concerns that the taxpayer is funding trade union representatives who are spending too little time actually teaching.
“Effective representation of teachers can play an important role in schools, but for too long teaching unions have received taxpayer funding with little transparency to the public about how this is spent. We believe substantial efficiencies can be found.”
But teachers’ leaders said the government would be hard pushed to find better value for money for the work trade unions carry out in schools.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the majority of schools, including academies, recognised the essential role trade unions play.
“Trade union representatives carry out essential work that ensures good working relationships in schools,” Dr Bousted said. “If they were not involved then schools would be forced to rely on legal advice and HR agencies, which would be far more costly. Trade unions do a very good job at a very reasonable price.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We acknowledge that facilities time funding frees up union representatives to promote these good working relationships.
“Nevertheless, at a time when resources for schools are very tight, it is appropriate to examine the costs of all activities including the funding of time for trade union officials. We fully accept that trade union representatives funded from the public purse should be able to account for how the funding is spent.”