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Let us do our job in peace, say heads

'Hyperactive' government must learn to trust schools, heads' conference told. Clare Dean and Karen Thornton report

THE leader of Britain's biggest headteacher union yesterday warned the next government to get off the backs of the profession.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, yesterday delivered a "tried hard ... could have done better" verdict on Labour. In the last of the set piece teacher conferences before the election, he said Labour was a "Jekyll and Hyde" government - highly focused, yet uncertain on strategy.

Mr Hart told the 500 delegates at his union's annual conference in Harrogate this week that teachers needed to be left alone to get on with the job, citing the 140 documents issued by Government over six months last year as evidence of hyperactivity.

"The health department does not tell surgeons how to operate ... why the hell should the Department for Education and Employment tell teachers how to teach?" However, today Estelle Morris, schools minister, will defend the government's record by listing its achievements, saying schools are getting more money, infant class size limits have been reached and standards are rising.

She is also expected to say that a new Labour government would provide for a bursar in every large school, and for clusters of smaller schools. This would help ease the administrative burdens on senior staff, and governors.

She will tell the conference that she wants heads to play a big part in the current review of teacher workload. And she will add that the party's pledge of 1,000 more teachers was not a target but a minimum.

But Mr Hart said the profession, shackled by national teaching strategies, targets, performance tables and inspection, felt it was "under the cosh" and that it could not be trusted. "Ministers and their officials can become a lethal combination when they try and control professional issues," said Mr Hart.

He accused the DFEE and the Treasury of acting in a nanny-state way by tying funding to thousands of targets. "Such an agenda was, perhaps, understandable from a Labour government hell-bent on a second period in office. But it cannot, indeed it must not,continue," he said.

Mr Hart warned Labour, that if re-elected next Thursday, it would be held to pledges of more cash for education and measured against Tony Blair's aim of creating a state education system as good in its facilities and investment as the private sector.

Mr Hart said the Tory promise of an pound;8 billion tax cut looked suspiciously as though it meant no growth at all in state-school resources. "Their promise of self government is theoretically attractive but more freedom to manage inadequate budgets is something of a mirage."

He said the new Government must not impose an artificial cash-limit on performance related pay awards. The proposed pound;100 million for 20022003 and pound;150m the year after for the leadership group and upper pay spine could only reward half of staff affected. "This is a recipe for massive discontent. Ham-fisted Treasury attempts to severely cap the performance related pay bill could well lead to a revolt," he said.

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