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Staff face exclusion from parental leave

Teachers may get no time off to look after their children, Frances Rafferty reports.

TEACHERS could be excluded from family-friendly Government proposals designed to give parents leave of up to one month a year.

The Department for Trade and Industry package would allow mothers and fathers 13 weeks off to care for each child up to the age of five.

But the work of schools is seen as so important that teachers may find it difficult to claim their entitlement. They are not being denied the leave, but the Government's consultation document suggests it will be easier for their employers to put off requests for time away from work.

Britain's biggest teachers' union fears the proposed legislation could discriminate against teachers. The document's model scheme for parental leave reads: "The employer can postpone leave where the needs of the business or the quality of the service, for example education, make this necessary..."

It also gives the "continuation of education" as an example of where leave might reasonably be postponed.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has written to Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett, saying: "I was sorry to learn that teachers who are parents have been singled out in this way."

The DTI proposals, based on a European directive, would give parents 13 weeks off for children aged five and under. The unpaid leave could be taken in blocks of one week upwards, with a maximum of four weeks in any year.

Employees taking a week to a fortnight off would have to give four weeks' notice. Leave could not be postponed for more than six months. The package also extends maternity leave and gives fathers the right to time off when their children are born. The new rights will only apply to those children born after December 15, 1999.

Kay Jenkins, NUT assistant secretary, said the proposals were much less flexible than the European directive, which gives leave until children are aged eight.

She said: "Parents are more likely to want the odd day off to help a child settle down in a nursery or with a child-minder. A week off unpaid would put off many teachers."

If an employee takes a few days off, this will count as a full week's entitlement.

The consultation document does have support from teachers' employers. Mike Walker, assistant director of the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers, said: "Teachers do have duties and timetables that distinguish them from other groups of employees."

And Pat Petch, chair of the National Governors' Council, said: "Most governors have sympathy with parents' issues, but their obligation is to the children in the school, not those of their staff.

"Continuity is vital, particularly in primary schools, especially with the literacy and numeracy schemes. Teacher absences are always disruptive for children and there is danger of a potential loss of learning. Secondary schools have the problem of finding cover in the same subject."

A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said: "Education was simply used as an example of how employers and their staff need to discuss when parental leave is taken."

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