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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 England or Wales, 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 has finally come into force this term.

Many heads - particularly those in primaries - have said 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 ignore the deal. But they could be in for a fight with the three main classroom unions, which warn that they will take action to secure the legal entitlement.

That threat includes the National Union of Teachers, even though it has opposed the deal signed by other unions, the Government and employers in January 2003.

But that could be the least of headteachers' worries. All schools have only until the end of December to consult on and finalise the radical reviews of their staffing structures.

The controversial replacement of management allowances with new teaching and learning responsibility payments is expected to mean a cut in salary for thousands of teachers, so the process is unlikely to be smooth.

Heads want an extension to what they say is a very tight deadline. But Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary, has shown no signs of budging on the issue.

If that were not enough, many heads will also be facing a last-minute scramble to get their self-evaluation forms prepared ahead of Ofsted's new lighter-touch inspection regime.

This term, 10 new academies are due to open. With one - Trinity, in Doncaster - being sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, the Christian fundamentalist and creationist, the controversy surrounding them is unlikely to disappear.

There are suggestions that a government white paper expected in October may herald changes to academy sponsorship rules. But reports of a retreat from the target to have 200 of the semi-independent schools in the pipeline within five years have been fiercely denied by sources close to those running the academies programme.

The white paper is also expected to increase Ofsted's power, giving the inspection body the power to strip schools of specialist status, and possibly to close failing schools. Parent power will be a feature of the proposed legislation, with manifesto promises to allow them to call in inspectors.

Personalisation of learning and greater choice in schools - in particular for children from more deprived backgrounds - are also likely themes.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, believes Ms Kelly's powers are so wide-ranging now that there is no real need for legislation.

Mr Dunford hopes that when it comes to the prospect of a 20th education bill in 20 years - already pencilled in for the new year - the Government will "just say no".

This term also marks a new era for the former Teacher Training Agency. Now known as the Training and Development Agency for Schools, its role extends from initial teacher training to include teachers' continuing professional development and support-staff training.

In October, the School Teachers' Review Body will reveal whether it has accepted Ms Kelly's case for a 2 per cent two-year pay deal for teachers.

Classroom unions want a bigger rise, while headteacher unions want greater pay differentiation for their members.

Meanwhile, the debate on teaching reading will roll on with the Reading Recovery one-to-one scheme introduced in 20 urban areas from this month.

Another 200 primaries are testing different approaches to phonics teaching for the Government.

Both will feed into a review of the role of synthetic phonics being carried out by Jim Rose, the former chief primary HMI and director of inspections at Ofsted, whose interim results are due in November.


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Marnie Shell, seven, has been back at Queniborough primary in Leicestershire for a week and has started junior school "There is not much about school that worries me. I think the work will be more difficult, but only a little bit.

"We have got a special mobile classroom and we are the only class to have one. I like it and if it gets cold in winter we can put our own radiator on.

"There are some new people in my class, Benjamin and Frasier and Sophia. I went to pre-school with them and am happy to be in their class again."

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