Employers to dock the pay of protesters

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Roger Butterfield's tale (far right) is a cautionary one for those trying to recruit and hang on to teachers. We examine their tactics and the state of the staffing crisis

Teachers who refuse to cover vacant posts face a showdown with local authorities. Warwick Mansell and Karen Thornton report

THE increasingly bitter dispute over teacher shortages intensified this week as teachers' employers responded to a union's threat of industrial action by pledging to dock the pay of those who take part.

Graham Lane, chair of the employers' body, said teachers refusing to cover for a vacancy would have their wages cut by more than pound;100 a day.

The threat comes after the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said it would ballot its members in Greater London on no-cover action.

The union has already authorised ballots in five schools, most outside London. Ballots in other authorities are also being considered.

Mr Lane said: "If teachers take part in this action, we will dock their pay, at the rate of one 195th of their salary, more than pound;100 a day for most.

"They will have to take the consequences of strike action. It's a very damaging thing to do to a child's education."

Although teachers' contracts make clear that staff can be asked to cover for absent colleagues and vacancies in "exceptional" circumstances, the NASUWT claims that, in many schools, these demands are being made as a matter of course.

Heads have the power to direct staff to cover shortages but doing so might provoke an escalation of the dispute in schools. NASUWT members are already involved in a work-to-rule action over workload.

Russell Clarke, deputy general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "If you can't persuade people to cover, you need to ask if it is productive to instruct them."

The National Association of Head Teachers has offered support to its members who instruct staff to cover shortages or accept extra pupils.

Advice to members states they are entitled to the full support of governors and councils if they think teachers are in breac of their contract.

But Chris Gale, chair of the National Governors Council, said: "Governors will be split on this. We have sympathy for staff. Taking on someone else's work is quite significant."

The NASUWT is discussing co-ordinating its action with the National Union of Teachers.

Unions aim to keep shortages in the public eye in the hope of a better pay deal. The School Teachers' Review Body is set to recommend this year's pay rise for teachers soon.

The signs are that ministers will try to tackle the problem by giving most of a pound;600 million package to young teachers and those in London. This could mean starting salaries in the capital top pound;20,000 for the first time.

But recruitment expert John Howson, a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, has warned shortages will worsen. He said ministers are set to miss their recruitment target again in the secondary sector. Pupil:teacher ratios, at their highest level for 25 years, could rise again.

Figures out today show applications for undergraduate training courses are down 12.3 per cent on December 1999. Mike Newby, chairman of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said the decline in applications could be due to the new pound;6,000 training salaries for postgraduate courses.

One source of recruits is the Government's list of 300,000 teachers not working in schools. These could include Ralph Tabberer, chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, schools minister Estelle Morris and even Who Wants to Be a Millionaire host Chris Tarrant.

But Professor Howson said that, in reality, only 30,000 of these could realistically be expected to return and most of those would be primary staff.

Ms Morris had said she had hopes of finding recruits among the redundancies at the Rover car plant in Longbridge, Birmingham. But not one of the 1,000 staff enrolled on a foundation teaching course at a local college.

The Department for Education and Employment has set up a unit to tackle teacher shortages. However, none of its staff would talk to The TES about its plans.

Opinion, 21

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