Blair continues quest for a 'special' culture

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Every secondary school could have a specialism if Tony Blair has his way, report Judith Judd, Clare Dean and Nic Barnard

EVERY secondary school could become a specialist school, the Prime Minister was expected to spell out this week in his first speech to a classroom teacher union.

Mr Blair is promising an extra pound;30 million that will enable the first business and enterprise schools to open in September next year as part of a big expansion of specialist secondaries.

A speech to be delivered to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Torquay on Thursday, included a pledge that there will be no limit on the number of specialist schools.

The Government's opening salvo for the teacher conference season is likely to provoke anger among teachers who accused ministers of trying to create a two-tier system when they announced a doubling of specialist school numbers earlier this year. However, Peter Smith, general secretary of the ATL, has praised the move to specialist schools in a TES article.

Mr Blair has already said that 1,500 secondary schools - nearly half the total - will have a specialism in drama, sport, languages, technology, business or science by 2006.

Specialist schools receive additional funds but have to raise local sponsorship.

The Prime Minister is expected to point to research showing that GCSE results are better in specialist schools than other comprehensives, undeterred by the fury caused by his press spokesman's comment that the day of the "bog-standard" comprehensive is over.

However, Government sources said last night that ministers recognised that not every school would want to adopt a specialism.

As the four main classroom unions in England and Wales debate a joint motion demanding a 35-hour week, Mr Blair will adopt a conciliatory tone on the issue of teachers' workload.

Ministers will not consider a 35-hour week for teachers but the Government is prepared to talk about practical steps to reduce workload if, as is expected, the National Union of Teachers arees to call off its no-cover action today.

Ministerial speeches over the next few days will call on teachers to reciprocate by acknowledging the Government's achievements in bringing in 4,000 more support staff, 10,000 more teachers and more money for buildings and equipment into schools.

A Government source said: "We know there are still problems about teacher supply in some areas. We know there are practical difficulties about workload, but let's have some honesty about what we have done."

Mr Smith said teachers would resort to "civil disobedience" if they were not listened to over the 35-hour week.

His warning came as his union, traditionally moderate, voted unanimously to support the motion - the first of the four unions to discuss it.

It envisages a ballot in the autumn if the Government fails to agree to an inquiry into teachers' conditions of service, and action could begin before half-term in October.

"Teachers are not asking for a licence to shirk but for a safeguard against gross exploitation," said Mr Smith, whose union has not taken action since the mid-1970s.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, believed the public would understand demands for a 35-hour working week. "It will not result in clock-watching or teachers walking away one minute after the 35 hours," he said.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The 35-hour working week wouldn't stop teachers wanting to do more but would define a maximum. If they can do it in Scotland where standards are roughly the same, why can't we do it here?" Teachers in England are contracted to work 1,265 hours annually but their contract contains a clause obliging them to do whatever is needed to fulfil their duties.

The School Teachers Review Body found that primary teachers worked on average 53 hours a week, and secondary teachers 51 hours. A newly-qualified teacher told The TES this week that she works an average 66-hour week.

News, 6-7 Leader, 16

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