Sign up or lose cash, unions told

Estelle Morris couldn't disguise her delight at the cash bonanza. Warwick Mansell reports

HEADTEACHERS will lose the money their schools receive direct from the Chancellor if teacher unions do not sign up to the Government's drive to "remodel" the teaching profession, Estelle Morris told The TES this week.

The Education Secretary set out her vision of a "more diverse and flexible" profession as she attempted to back the record pound;12.8 billion increase for education in England with tough talk.

Ms Morris said schools would only qualify for direct cash, next year worth pound;165,000 to the typical secondary, if she could get agreement from union leaders in the autumn on how it would be spent.

"We need a cultural change in the way heads spend their money," she said.

"I'm not going to say 'will all schools now appoint one admin support, one bursar and buy three laptops'. But what I don't want is for heads to use their money merely to create new teaching posts."

Ms Morris said: "I need to settle with the unions any changes in contract and I need unions to help lever that change."

Ms Morris knows that if there are to be more support staff in schools, there need to be clear rules about their roles. "I need agreement on what classroom assistants can do, I need agreement on what teachers shouldn't do."

In particular, she needs to resolve a dispute with the unions about whether non-teachers can cover lessons for absent teachers. In return for these agreements she would offer teachers guaranteed non-contact time during the working week.

Ms Morris wants schools to support a huge expansion in out-of-hours learning, which will see every one offering a breakfast or homework club by 2006.

In the paper that set out the reforms, Ms Morris hinted at getting tough with underperforming teachers by tightening performance management and capability procedures.

Despite the hard line, The TES found Ms Morris in ebullient mood in her seventh-floor office at the Department for Education and Skills. Dressed in a vivid pink dress, which she said her advisers had helped her to select - "relying on men for my dress sense, what's happening?" - and fresh from her statement to a typically rumbustious House of Commons, she spoke of her enthusiasm for the task ahead.

"I do feel the responsibility that goes along with it, but this is the most exciting job in politics."

Co-operation between schools is one of the themes of the reforms, with 300 "advanced" schools selected to drive improvement in their struggling counterparts.

But Ms Morris acknowledged that specialist secondaries, which were supposed to work with local schools, had not always done so effectively. However, the very best schools were more confident in their own position and therefore more willing to help other schools.

The Government is also giving pound;125,000 extra to 1,400 schools in disadvantaged areas, according to low exam results and free school meals. To get the money, weak schools would need agreed development plans - including changes to senior staff if necessary.

Ms Morris said that she would not let up on the demands she made of teachers. But she added: "The Chancellor does not invest billions in a profession that's not valued."

She said she did not regret last month's remark that there were some schools that she would "not touch with a bargepole".

"All I was saying was that there are some I would work in and some I wouldn't. It started an interesting debate."

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