THE Government is facing a battle with heads as it tries to ensure that extra money for schools is not simply ploughed into recruiting more teachers.
Ministers fear that heads could ruin their carefully worked out strategy for easing teacher workload and add to the staffing crisis. They want schools to invest in more assistants and computer support to take the non-teaching burden off teachers. If, instead, schools try to take on more teachers, ministers believe it will increase demand and lead to even more vacancies.
Last week, Education Secretary Estelle Morris announced plans to pump pound;375 million a year directly into school budgets by 2006, as part of a pound;13 billion annual increase in funding for education in England.
But she said governing bodies would only receive the money if she could reach agreement with national union leaders over workforce reform. Specifically, she told The TES she did not want headteachers spending all of the extra cash on more teaching staff.
Heads already seem reluctant to bring in support staff to take over non-teaching reponsibilities. The second largest classroom union claimed this week that many heads had ignored a government call earlier this year to take administrative tasks off teachers.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he would be prepared to negotiate on the issue. However he pointed out that extra support staff would do nothing to reduce class sizes. Increasing the number of classes in a school necessarily involves recruiting more qualified class teachers.
He said: "Are large class sizes now the order of the day? Our members do not think they are.
"We cannot staff our classrooms properly on the back of a large number of good support staff. We can only do that on the back of good support staff and good teachers. We need both."
His claims were backed by Geoff Gait-Carr, head of Calton junior school, Gloucester. He took on an extra teacher this year to ensure children starting at his two-form entry school would benefit from smaller classes in their first year.
He said: "By bringing in an extra member of staff I was taking a financial risk ...but it's worked marvellously. Heads would all really like to put the extra money into staffing."
However, John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads'
Association, was more cautious. He said: "I will certainly be recommending to heads that they use the money to increase support staff and IT facilities in order to address the workload agenda."
Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said that the reluctance of heads to invest in support staff had meant that a Government letter in the spring to all schools, setting out administrative tasks teachers should not do, had largely been ignored.
She said: "Heads have been simply chucking that letter in the bin. At one meeting of 130 teachers, only three said they had even seen it. We welcome the fact that the Government talks about reaching agreement with us on workload, and support this move."
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, described Ms Morris's talk of reaching "agreement" with union leaders over workload reform as a major step forward.
Last week, Mr McAvoy wrote to Ms Morris urging her to give some of the Department for Education and Skill's pound;1.4bn underspend last year to schools to spend on support staff.