Six months that will shake your world

What will teachers' pay be for the next three years? Has the Government hit its most important target? How will education be funded in the future? Warwick Mansell on the crucial questions that will soon be answered

COULD this be the most crucial six months for teachers in recent times? Many see the coming academic year as a "moment of truth" for staff, the Government and local authorities.

On the agenda is not only the conclusion of nearly two years of government investigations into how to cut teachers' workload, but a new three-year pay deal that is likely to set their salaries to 2006.

Away from salaries and conditions, the coming term will also see the Government discover whether it has hit its most significant target in education, and the announcement of the most radical shake-up of local council funding for more than 10 years.

Further details of how ministers will reform secondary schools following last month's announcement of unprecedented new funds for education, and two major new laws relating to schools, add further to a packed schedule.

On workload, the Government will not bow to union demands for a 35-hour week, but teachers are likely to be granted a set amount of time per week for marking and preparation. Ministers will press heads to gove non-teaching tasks to support staff.

Whether this will be enough to placate the unions remains to be seen. The teacher associations will certainly want some commitment on cutting working hours even if this stops short of a 35-hour cap.

Predicting the level of the three-year pay award is tricky. But with the Chancellor insistent that this summer's increase in education spending will not be swallowed up in teachers' salaries, big inflation-busting rises are unlikely.

More controversial than the amount salaries rise, however, will be the issue of performance-related pay. Despite its unpopularity with staff, ministers remain doggedly enthusiastic about pay by results, which could herald real problems with the unions.

Of greater immediate interest to ministers will be the publication of the key stage 2 2002 test results for English and maths, on which former Education Secretary David Blunkett famously staked his job.

However, even if, as seems likely, the Government targets set five years ago have not been hit, Mr Blunkett's successor Estelle Morris will not be resigning.

The key date on the calendar for local authorities is November, when the Government announces its final plans to change the formula by which their budgets are calculated.

The stakes are high for education authorities. For each of them, millions of pounds hang on the choice of funding method. Early indications are that the outcome of the funding is unlikely to satisfy the most poorly-funded authorities and schools.

Also due this autumn is the Government's response to consultation on its plans to overhaul education for 14- to 19-year-olds. Plans to make languages and design and technology optional from 14 were greeted with dismay by teachers in the subjects. They will be anxious to see whether the Government has heeded their pleas to keep the subjects statutory at key stage 4.

A new Education Act also comes into force this term. Schools will get controversial powers to apply to opt out of any education law if they have an "innovative project" from next month.

And the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, under which schools can be taken to tribunals if they fail to allow a disabled child to participate fully in all aspects of school life, becomes law this term. From this month, local authorities are also required to provide full-time education for every child excluded from school.

Trainees may breathe a sigh of relief this term as the Teacher Training Agency makes its famously over-prescriptive curriculum more manageable.

And the National College for School Leadership, first proposed in 1998, opens the doors on its new pound;28 million home at Nottingham University later this month.

Away from schools, this term will also see the publication of the Government's 10-year plan for funding higher education. Ministers are expected to reject the idea of a graduate tax, but there could be a limited re-introduction of grants of up to pound;40 a week for poorer students.

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