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Ready for a year in a state of flux?

With the final phase of the workforce deal, lighter-touch inspections and a shake-up of the salary structure, the new school year will not be short of controversy

Have you had the equivalent of an afternoon free this week to plan and mark your lessons?

If the answer is no and you are a state school teacher working in Wales or England, then your school is breaking the law. After a phoney war that has dragged on for more than a year, the last and most expensive phase of the school workforce agreement finally came into force this term.

Many heads, particularly those in primaries, have warned they do not have the money to implement the 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment time for teachers without jeopardising standards. Some have threatened to flout the law and not implement the deal. But they could be in for a fight, with the three main classroom unions warning they will take action to secure the legal entitlement for their members.

That threat includes the National Union of Teachers, even though it never signed the January 2003 deal. In Wales, it has urged parents to check if their children are being taught by teachers or classroom assistants. But that could be the least of heads' worries. All schools have to consult on, and finalise, radical reviews of their staffing structures.

With the controversial replacement of management allowances with new teaching and learning responsibility payments, expected to mean salary cuts for thousands of teachers, the process is unlikely to be smooth.

Heads in Wales at least have until March 31 to complete the reviews: colleagues in England are lobbying for a similar extension to their December 31 deadline. And in October, the School Teachers' Review Body will reveal whether it has accepted education secretary Ruth Kelly's case for a 2 per cent, two-year pay deal for teachers. Classroom unions want a bigger rise, while heads' unions want greater pay differentiation for their members. Teachers' pay and conditions are not devolved to the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, this term, a five-strong committee will be feeling its way through the funding fog surrounding education spending in Wales, in a bid to establish - once and for all - whether schools are getting the funding they need, and as much as in England.

All agree that education spending overall has increased, but heads have long argued that they are not seeing the increases in their budgets. Based on its own research, the Secondary Heads' Association Cymru thinks Welsh secondaries could be up to pound;43 million out of pocket, compared to similar schools in England.

This year will see the passing of two education agencies, as part of first minister Rhodri Morgan's "bonfire of the quangos". ELWa, the post-16 education funding agency, and ACCAC, the qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority for Wales, will merge with the Assembly's education department next April. But critics fear the huge reorganisation will prove a distraction from on-going reforms of the three to seven and 14 to 19 curriculum, including expanding the pilots of a play-based foundation phase and the Welsh baccalaureate.

With compulsory national tests for 11 and 14-year-olds now abolished in Wales, the assessment focus will turn to the development of new skills tests for Year 5 pupils and of moderated teacher assessment at both key stages. But expect a large number of secondary pupils to sit next summer's "optional" KS3 tests.

Who's paid what in education 27 WHAT TO EXPECT

* The school workforce agreement: from this month all teachers are entitled to 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment time.

* ACCAC and ELWa merge with the Assembly government. It's the end of the line for Wales's qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority, and its post-16 education funding quango.

* Teaching and support staff positions should come under review as all schools draw up new staffing structures.

* Five assembly members will be grappling with the formulae governing how education cash arrives in Welsh schools.

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