Deal hits support snag

20th June 2003 at 01:00
Unions representing assistants warn that redundancies and poor pay could scupper workload plans. William Stewart reports.

The Government's modernisation of the school workforce will be seriously damaged by the funding crisis and a failure to reach local agreements on support staff jobs. Final changes to teachers' contracts, released by the Government this week (see box) require teaching assistants to take over 24 routine tasks from September.

But the two biggest support staff unions say that cannot happen where their members are losing jobs or hours because of funding problems.

Unison and the GMB are also insisting on local agreements with schools and education authorities over pay and conditions before members take on the duties. They say that in the majority of cases discussions have not even started.

Leaders of both unions managed to head off calls from activists to tear up the agreement altogether at their annual conferences this month. But they are warning ministers that they may still have to pull out if their members do not see real gains.

At Unison's conference in Brighton this week, Dave Prentis, general secretary, also threatened strikes if the agreement was not fully funded.

Christina McAnea, Unison's head of education, said: "We need some wins for members because at the moment all we have is jam tomorrow."

Areas where the workload deal could be scuppered, because of redundancies or because there is no local agreement, include Gateshead, Nottingham, Bristol and Gloucestershire, she said.

Jude Brimble, GMB national education officer, who was confronted with support staff waving redundancy notices at the union's conference in Blackpool last week, said two-thirds of education authorities had not yet begun discussions.

"We are only four weeks from the end of term and I think that come September there will be areas where we will not be able to deliver this agreement," she said. "We are committed to it but unless the money is there we are just left with a fine set of words. Teacher remodelling stands or falls with the school support staff."

Ms McAnea said schools and authorities should use capital funds or set deficit budgets to avoid making support staff redundant (as the Government had authorised). If money was still a problem after that then it was up to ministers to provide more funds.

But David Miliband, schools minister, told The TES there would be no extra money this year. Asked about reports that the Government was preparing a rescue package for the hardest hit schools, he said: "That is not true. We have put out all our money."

Unison delegates, angry at job losses in schools, heckled the minister when he spoke at a fringe meeting in Brighton, announcing a doubling of places on a pilot school support staff qualifications programme and a national training plan for the sector.

Last week Chris Keates, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, revealed that headteachers could have their contracts changed to ensure they used higher-level teaching assistants properly and that the Office for Standards in Education and local authorities could be asked to monitor the situation.

* Unison and the National Union of Teachers are requesting a meeting of all TUC education unions to formulate a joint response to the funding crisis.


From September 2003

* Teachers no longer expected to carry out 24 administrative and clerical tasks including photocopying and filing.

* All teachers and heads to enjoy a reasonable worklife balance.

* Teachers, including heads, will be given a reasonable allocation of time for leadership and management responsibilities.

From September 2004

* Teachers will not be required to cover for absent colleagues for more than 38 hours a year.

From September 2005

* All teachers to have guaranteed time, equivalent to at least 10 per cent of their teaching hours, within the school day for planning, preparation and assessment.

* Heads to be given leadership time.

There will be be four weeks formal consultation before the first phase of changes become law in September.

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