Cash-starved heads lie in wait for Clarke

28th March 2003 at 00:00
Many say rising costs mean they will do well to avoid staff cuts, let alone invest in reducing teachers' workload. William Stewart previews a potentially fractious Secondary Heads Association conference

THIS weekend's Secondary Heads Association conference will be dominated by one topic - money, or rather the lack of it.

Headteachers say they are struggling to fund existing activities, let alone bring in the teacher workload agreement.

Charles Clarke will face a tough grilling when he speaks to heads today, though not as tough as the one he would have received from the National Union of Teachers, whose Easter conference invitation he declined.

John Dunford, SHA general secretary, warns that the Education Secretary will be expected to come up with some answers when he addresses members in Birmingham this afternoon.

"Heads are being expected to take on more support staff in September to implement the workload agreement but they won't necessarily have the money they need to do that," he said. "It is difficult to reassure them on that point. It is up to the Government and I am sure that is what members will be asking Charles."

Mr Dunford said costs were rising fast and, in many schools, funding was not keeping pace , making it impossible to invest in cutting workload.

He explained: "A number of factors including a 5.15 per cent rise in pension costs, a 1 per cent hike in national insurance and a reduction in standards funds had all come together at the same time." Members, he said, were "hugely supportive" of the teacher workload agreement in general.

But he admitted that their confidence in receiving enough money to fund the agreement over the next three years had been "badly shaken".

Responding to the NAHT's attempt to block the deal over funding, Mr Dunford said: "We are unhappy about this year's funding situation for many schools but this year's budget problems are not specific workload funding problems and we do not want to see the chance to reduce workload and make the job of teaching more attractive jeopardised because of general funding problems.

"We are not going to walk away from the agreement that we have just signed.

We are committed to the agreement but the Government has to recognise the funding difficulties many schools have got."

He said schools in some parts of the country had benefited from the new funding arrangements.

Mr Clarke will be launching a consultation paper today, on how teachers can be helped to nurture their subject specialisms. He believes that teachers are motivated join the profession because of enthusiasm for their individual subjects as well as teaching as a whole.

He wants a beefed-up role for the subject associations such as the Association for Science Education, which has more than 20,000 members, and the National Association of Music Educators. They could be used to support teachers and advise Government.

Other issues expected to be mulled over in formal conference sessions and in the bars are fears about a loss of management flexibility, difficulties in organising cover and possible discipline problems when teachers are relieved of exam invigilation duties in 2005.

Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat education spokesman and a former SHA member, intends to address the funding threat to the workload agreement when he speaks to delegates tomorrow. "The foundations of the workload agreement have been very seriously shaken and if it proves to be hot air rather than action then teachers will feel extremely let down and it is heads who will have to manage that," he said.

Writing in today's TES, Mr Dunford, who has just been re-elected unopposed for his second five-year term as general secretary, argues that creativity in schools is being stifled by over-accountability - a point he will repeat in his speech to delegates on Saturday morning.

He will argue that schools are now being held to account by too many bodies in too many ways - including targets, inspections and league tables - creating excessive bureaucracy. He wants schools to be allowed to develop their own performance measures.

Kate Griffin, this year's SHA president, said she expected the conference to send out a message to the Government that heads should be trusted. "We are leaders, we are the leading profession and we have done a competent job," she said.

"Quite frankly if industrial leaders had improved their results in the way that school leaders have in recent years they would be demanding hundreds of thousands of pounds in bonuses. I think our profession deserves to be valued and trusted."

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