Reform or face music

Workforce deal supporters plan tough stand over schools that are not yet taking action. Karen Thornton reports

Headteachers in Wales who plead poverty as an excuse for not delivering non-contact time for teachers this September could find themselves under scrutiny from London.

National signatories to the workforce agreement have dismissed claims that a lack of funding is obstructing progress on delivering reforms designed to reduce teachers' workload.

Figures released by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers show heads in some areas of Wales were sitting on budget reserves of up to pound;239 per pupil in 2002-3.

But there are continuing concerns that the amount of cash available for workload reforms in Wales is insufficient and not reaching schools.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said a handful of Welsh schools had not even begun to implement changes. "We have had groups of primary heads asserting they have not got the funding.

"If, having tried to implement it, schools can demonstrate they have shortfall problems, we will take it up with the Assembly government. But we are starting to narrow it down to a number of heads who are just being resistant," she said.

"Non-contact time is a statutory responsibility - heads have to implement it and prioritise their budgets to do so."

Graham Lane, vice-chairman of NEOST, the association of schoolteachers'

employers, said concerns about progress in Wales had been raised at last month's meeting of the workforce agreement monitoring group.

Wales has proportionately more small primary schools with teaching heads than England, and he acknowledged they faced particular problems delivering non-contact time.

But examples of good practice and successful strategies were available from small schools in Cumbria and Cornwall. And heads cannot escape their contractual obligations, especially if they are sitting on budget reserves, as suggested by the NASUWT figures.

"If heads have underspends, they can introduce non-contact time without financial difficulties. Teachers are entitled to only work in the classroom for 4.5 days. Some heads simply have to change how they work," he said.

NEOST and other national signatories to the agreement are asking their members to monitor the situation in Wales and, if concerns continue, the signatories could visit the country to check on progress.

Teachers' pay and conditions in Wales is one of the few education policy areas still determined by the Westminster government.

In Wales, the Assembly government this year allocated pound;33 million for workload reforms, rising to pound;70m in 2006-7 - the equivalent of more than pound;30,000 per school.

A spokesperson said: "This funding will allow schools to employ more support staff who can relieve teachers of tasks they should not or need not be doing. The workload agreement has statutory force and we expect all schools and LEAs to comply."

Pat Clarke, president of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said the key issue in Wales remained funding - particularly for providing 10 per cent planning, preparation and assessment time.

"There isn't a head in Wales who wouldn't want to implement this, but they need the resources to do it. We welcome the Assembly's pound;58m in 2005-6, but I would say it's not sufficient."

There are huge variations in how LEAs are dividing up the cash between primary and secondary schools, she added.

The Welsh Local Government Association calculates another pound;23m is needed in Wales to implement the workload agreement.

Councillor John Davies, the WLGA's lifelong learning representative, said delivering non-contact time was a human resource as well as a funding challenge in small schools.

"I'm hopeful progress will have been made by September, but there's no doubt it will vary throughout Wales," he said.

news 4, leader 22

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