An 11th-hour proposal to limit teachers' hours has gone before ministers, report Clare Dean and Warwick Mansell
TEACHERS' employers this week held out the prospect of a limit on working hours for school staff as four teaching unions in England and Wales threatened to take joint action against excessive workloads.
The move, which would change the conditions of services of 450,000 teachers, has already been put privately to ministers who would need to approve it and was said to have drawn "quite a positive response".
Thousands of members of the two largest teaching unions in London and Doncaster are due to begin a work-to-rule next week, refusing to cover for absent colleagues and staff shortages.
Graham Lane, chair of the national employers organisation, urged them to suspend the industrial action, pending talks on a new contract for teachers.
"We want to sit down with the unions and have a serious look at the conditions of service for teachers. This is long overdue.
"Teachers' contracts are far too open-ended. We have got to try to limit the hours. " Recommendations from the independent McCrone committee in Scotland resulted in a contractual working week of 35 hours for all teachers and guaranteed 22.5 hours contact time to be phased in over five years.
In an unprecedented move, the three classroom unions in England are now threatening to refuse to work more than 35 hours a week in a joint action against workloads.
The National Assoiation of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Welsh teachers' union UCAC are to launch a combined resolution at their conferences condemning the working demands currently made on the profession as "unacceptable".
They will demand that the Government acts on a recommendation from the School Teachers' Review Body and conducts an inquiry into teachers' workloads and pay. If ministers refuse, the work-to-rule would start from September.
The move represents an escalation of the current bureaucracy-cutting campaign by the NUT and the NASUWT. It comes after the review body, in its annual report, said primary teachers were working 52.8 hours a week on average, while secondary and special school staff were exceeding 51 hours.
Contracts for full-time teachers state they have to be available for work for 1,265 hours a year - the equivalent of 33 hours a week, plus "such additional hours"as are needed to carry out their professional duties.
The unions claim ministers have refused the STRB's recommendation to hold an inquiry, claiming they are tackling the problem by reducing paperwork sent to schools.
The resolution condemns this response as "complacent", and compares the Government's reaction to that in Scotland.
Last month Education Secretary David Blunkett said that limits to teachers' hours or contact time would be difficult and cumbersome.