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Shun assistants, urges NUT

England's biggest teaching union tells members not to co-operate with new senior support staff who will take classes. William Stewart and Karen Thornton report

MEMBERS of England's largest teacher union have been told not to co-operate with assistants who take lessons alone under the workload agreement.

The National Union of Teachers, the only major school staff union not to have signed the deal, is telling teachers not to prepare, monitor or mark any lessons taught by new higher-level assistants.

Its move could make it difficult for schools to use senior assistants to create more non-contact time for teachers.

Draft regulations, published this week, say that assistants preparing or delivering lessons must do so under the "direction and supervision of a qualified teacher" but this does not mean the teacher has to be present in class. The union took its stand as details of the workload reduction reforms went out for consultation. They include standards and regulations on the use of higher-level assistants and changes to teachers' contracts.

Contract changes include the transfer of administrative jobs to support staff from September and a requirement that schools ensure teachers - and heads - have a reasonable work-life balance. By September 2005, all teachers should be freed for at least 10 per cent of normal school hours to do preparation, planning and assessment.

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said: "We will not block their agreement but we will not do anything that would add to our workload to help them (senior teaching assistants)."

Mr McAvoy said his union would look again at industrial action to limit hours if the workload deal failed to reduce them. He was disappointed there had been no major changes to the deal since the eight other unions, employers and the Government signed in January.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, welcomed the latest steps forward on workload and attacked the NUT's stance on higher-level assistants as irrational. "Their action will result in more work for teachers, not less. Surely the NUT is not trying to defend to the death the right of teachers to cover for their absent colleagues?" he said.

The Department for Education and Skills accused the NUT of threatening standards; its stance was "extraordinary and highly regrettable".

The National Association of Head Teachers has threatened to withdraw approval for the workload deal if the Government does not resolve "inadequate" school funding by the end of the four-week consultation period.

But Eamonn O'Kane, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' general secretary, said those insisting that funding would not be available for the changes were being "premature and disingenuous".

Gerald Imison, Association of Teachers and Lecturers' acting general secretary, said that if the NUT went ahead with action hindering the agreement, the ATL would find it difficult to take its usual co-operative stance: it usually advises against undermining industrial action by other unions.

The NUT believes a ballot of members is not required to authorise its policy of non co-operation with assistants, as the action would fall under the union's anti-bureaucracy work-to-rule action, kept open as a fall-back since 1998.

Mr McAvoy said the union was aware that schools in some areas were jumping the gun by advertising for cover supervisors to take lessons so the action could begin immediately. Some schools have been using assistants to cover for teachers since September.

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