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Talks begin but the remit row continues

Teachers' leaders have agreed to end their cover boycott when the first review talk begins on Tuesday. Nic Barnard reports on what reforms are in the offing

TEACHERS will formally suspend their cover boycott on Tuesday - the day David Blunkett meets unions and employers to discuss the remit for a review of workload.

The National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers met on Monday to agree that the suspension should coincide with the first meeting with ministers.

And any reforms that result could be in place as early as April. Setting a tight timetable, ministers want the review's outcome to feed into this year's annual pay round, which opens in September.

That means the review could be under way before the general election expected on June 7 and the arrival of Mr Blunkett's successor as education secretary.

Classroom unions are also keen on a speedy outcome. But they remain at loggerheads with the Government over the review's remit.

Heads also waded into the workload row this week, with the National Association of Head Teachers demanding an end to the duty that they cover for absent teachers. That prompted a spat with the NASUWT, which accused heads of hypocrisy.

Next week's talks follow an historic agreement by the NUT, NASUWT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers to take industrial action if the Government failed to deliver a McCrone-style independent inquiry.

The McCrone inquiry in Scotland delivered teachers thre a 35-hour week, and guaranteed 20 minutes' preparation and marking time for every hour teaching. But McCrone's remit - which included pay - was wider than the Government is prepared to go.

Ministers are determined any review should focus on "practical measures" rather than a wholesale restructuring of teachers' contracts - and talks on pay have been ruled out entirely.

Measures could include a further increase in teacher numbers, continued expansion of classroom assistants and the widescale introduction of administrative support staff in schools.

A spokesman for Mr Blunkett said any review would have to go through the School Teachers' Review Body, which carries out the annual review of pay and conditions.

"We're not creating an alternative STRB," he said.

Classroom and headteachers' unions held their first meeting with employers last night, dealing largely with short-term measures. But they will also look at the longer term - employers' leader Graham Lane and the NUT both want a return of full negotiating rights.

Meanwhile David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, this week told employers that heads' contracts should be changed so that "our members are not placed under an obligation to cover for absent colleagues".

NASUWT general secretary Nigel de Gruchy said heads had attacked teachers for refusing to cover, yet now wanted their own exemption. "They elevate management and administration above the importance of good quality teaching," he said.

Opinion, 19

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