Unions angered by hints of reduced salaries for staff caught in agricultural exclusion zones. Amanda Kelly reports
THE Government this week angered teachers by hinting that staff who failed to turn up for work as a result of the foot-and-mouth crisis may have their pay docked.
A circular sent out to all local education authorities said that schools in rural areas should do their best to remain open and teachers should make every effort to attend school.
Where staff living on infected farms, for example, were unable to get to school: "It is the employer's (LEA and governors') decision whether or not to continue to pay the salary."
Although the Department for Education and Employment goes on to stress that employers would be expected to act reasonably, union leaders said it was "extraordinarily insensitive" to even raise the possibility that staff forced to stay at home might not be paid.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "If teachers cannot come to work because of a situation outside of their control, it leaves an extremely bad taste in the mouth to suggest they might lose out on pay."
The National Union of Teachers described the action as an "extremely poor act in public relations" that seemed to be inviting governors and local authorities to dock pay.
Although, as The TES went to press, the number of confirmed cases in the UK has risen to more tha 80, only 14 schools in infected areas were closed this week.
In Cumbria, where more than 10 outbreaks of the disease have been identified, 600 pupils from five schools found themselves with a week off, but teachers were attempting to deliver work packs to them.
Youngsters from five schools in Devon were also being set work to do at home while they waited to return to normal lessons. A spokesman for Devon county council said it hoped all schools would reopen by the end of next week and added that it would continue paying teachers living in exclusion zones who were unable to travel to school.
Even in areas that have not been affected, schools were playing their part in controlling the disease.
Visits to farms, countryside field trips and other outdoor activities have been cancelled. Ampleforth College, a private school in the heart of rural North Yorkshire, has postponed all major sporting fixtures and is offering free boarding places to all day pupils during the crisis.
Headteacher Father Leo Chamberlain said: "You cannot move around this part of Yorkshire without passing through agricultural areas and across roads used by livestock and farm vehicles. If we can help reduce unnecessary movement around the area, then we are happy to do so."
A DFEE spokesman stressed that it was up to local authorities and governors to make any decisions over pay and that the guidance had been issued in response to queries on the matter.