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Honour deal over hours or face strikes

The NASUWT has issued a workload ultimatum to schools. William Stewart and Michael Shaw report

SCHOOLS that fail to give teachers the benefits of the new workload deal face strikes by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers.

The warning comes as the deal - signed by five of the six main teachers'

unions three months ago - is under growing pressure, with even the moderate Assocation of Teachers and Lecturers threatening action and heads talking of a veto.

Eamonn O'Kane, NASUWT general secretary, said that his union would react strongly to any school that attempted to "frustrate" implementation of the deal, taking industrial action if necessary. He said that a small number of schools might be tempted to avoid giving teachers guaranteed marking and preparation time during the school day to save money.

The National Association of Head Teachers has said that it will not agree to the changes unless the Government provides enough funding to make them work.

The National Union of Teachers has advised its members not to co-operate with heads who attempt to have lessons covered by teaching assistants and will take industrial action if they believe teachers' jobs have been lost in favour of assistants.

At the nasuwt's annual conference this week members are expected to back the workload deal, signed by Mr O'Kane, the Government, employers and seven other unions, including two representing support staff. But they need assurances. One motion calls for a ballot for strikes if a raft of workload improvements are not in place by September 2004, including a 35-hour limit on the working week.

The NUT's refusal to sign the workload agreement may have left it isolated politically but could prove to be a unifying force at its conference.

However, senior members of the union are unhappy that the union has allowed itself to be left out in the cold and is now out of favour with the Trades Union Congress, which played a significant role in brokering the deal.

Alex Kenny, the NUT's Socialist Teachers' Alliance convenor predicts the next few days will be relatively harmonious, due in large part to the union's workload stance. "I don't think it will be one of the most contentious conferences because I think there is agreement across the key issues," he said. "The decision not to sign the workload deal is one the membership at large is united on."

The NASUWT, meanwhile, is confident that its members will endorse its support for the deal in the executive's emergency debate.

Juanita Ward, negotiating secretary for the NASUWT's Solihull branch, said:

"Usually if there is going to be resistance to a move by the national executive we'd get tentative letters about it weeks before the conference - but there haven't been any."

Mr O'Kane said that clashes between the NASUWT and NUT over the agreement had set back plans for a united "super-union". However, in an article for The TES this week, Steve Sinnott, the NUT's deputy general secretary, argues the big three classroom unions must put asides these differences and push for merger. Mr Sinnott is one of the favourites to succeed Doug McAvoy, the union's leader (see page opposite).

Mr O'Kane suffered an embarrassing defeat on unity last year and said that the issue would be played down at this year's conference.

But a private session will be held where members will discuss a report on the future of the union, which includes proposals that the unions could form a federation or share services.

* A new scrutiny unit to monitor the implementation of the workload agreement is to be led by Chris Nicholls, head of Moulsham high school, Chelmsford. Eight of the other 12 members are heads, with just two senior teachers and one school administrator.

Analysis, 18; Steve Sinnott, 19

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