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Labour set to tear up teachers' contract

Ministers want a more flexible workforce, report Nicolas Barnard and Frances Rafferty

Ministers want to do away with the national teachers' pay and conditions contract in an attempt to create a more flexible workforce, The TES can reveal.

Schools in education action zones - deprived areas being targeted by the Government - are to be used as a test bed for new contracts. Teachers could be paid more for working longer hours and personal contracts could be on the agenda.

Stephen Byers, school standards minister, said last weekend that it was time to replace the contract imposed on teachers in 1987 with one that reflected the demands of Labour's drive to raise standards.

This drive will not be limited to failing schools in action zones. Mr Byers said 40 per cent of schools were coasting - and they would prove hardest to convince of the need to rise to the challenge.

He said there could be more money for teachers "prepared to sign up" to a new agreement. But it would only be possible to squeeze more out of the Treasury if the Department for Education and Employment could demonstrate results.

Education action zones, announced two weeks ago, will be given the freedom to set new pay and conditions for teachers, partly to entice staff into areas where recruitment is often difficult. One county education chairman told The TES that his authority's bid would mean negotiating longer hours for teachers.

But at the Society of Education Officers' annual conference in Harrogate last weekend, Mr Byers indicated Labour's thinking was to use zones to introduce much wider-reaching reforms. "I want zones to pilot new ways of thinking as far as teachers' conditions go," he said. "If we put extra demands on teachers to work in the evening, early in the morning, at the weekend, they must be rewarded and treated as professionals. If we can have a more professional teachers' contract it will be a price worth having for the increased pay for the individual teachers prepared to sign up."

Under the 1987 Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act now in force, teachers are required to work an annual 1,265 hours, teaching for 190 days a year with five days for in-service training.

But Government initiatives including summer literacy schools and homework clubs have already been judged a success, and there is a growing body of opinion which wants to extend the school day - and even the school year. That has created pressure to reform teachers' contracts which has been reinforced by the action zones.

The Government expects resistance, and unions indicated this week they would get it. Even before the extent of the Government's plans was known, the National Union of Teachers was threatening action over zones, saying it would only support bids if teachers' organisations were consulted and if national pay and conditions applied.

But Labour is unlikely to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards the unions from which it has distanced itself since taking power. Mr Byers told the SEO he had been alarmed by teachers' defensiveness. That might be the legacy of 18 years under the Tories, he said, but they needed to regain their self-confidence.

"The present teachers' contract was actually imposed in 1987 at the height of action and was massively opposed by teachers then. Now we are talking about changing contracts, teachers are the first to defend it. We need to take them through the argument, and say isn't there a better contract we can develop for the late 1990s?" he said.

Mr Byers also announced that authorities were to be inspected every five years by the Office for Standards in Education and the Audit Commission. Inspections will increase from 12 to 30 a year by 2000. LEAs will therefore be scrutinised more often than schools, which are to be visited every six years.

Lea inspections, page 9

Leader, page 18

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