Heads told to draft in WI

19th November 2004 at 00:00
Outrage as trainers suggest Women's Institute members could cover for staff under the workload deal

Women's Institute volunteers could teach design and technology and school caretakers take football under government plans to cut teachers' workload, headteachers have been told.

Heads attending training sessions on how to implement the workforce deal were amazed when trainers suggested calling in the WI to free teachers to plan lessons.

WI members, who once famously slow-handclapped Tony Blair, were equally indignant. Doris Dinham, a former primary head and WI member from Haslemere in Surrey, said: "We went on strike in the 1960s because we didn't want untrained staff teaching. We were very angry and I feel very angry that it could happen now."

The idea was mooted in a training session for Wirral heads, who said it was "absurd" and "beyond comprehension" to rely on volunteers with no teaching experience, no training and no record in raising standards.

WI members had already successfully taken design and technology classes at a school in Cumbria, the headteachers were told, although Cumbria county council could find no evidence of it.

Brian McNutt, head of Eastway primary, said: "If you are just taking people who are unqualified and putting them in classes from day one, chaos could ensue."

It was doubtful whether there were enough willing and able volunteers or coaches to fill the gap in 24,000 schools, the heads said.

WI members said there would not be many who would want to face classes of 30 children alone.

Judy Avens, Haslemere WI president, said: "It's not every child, but in the majority of schools, children are so badly behaved. There's no parental control."

The controversy comes as members of the National Association of Head Teachers prepare to vote next week on whether to withdraw from the agreement, which guarantees that 10 per cent of a teacher's time will be set aside for preparation and marking.

The Wirral heads said schools face a budget shortfall of around 6 per cent in implementing the agreement and called on the Government to fund it fully.

Tim McBeath, head of St Anne's Roman Catholic primary, Wirral, said: "I am fully in favour of staff getting time to do their work, rather than doing it on Sunday afternoons as many of them do at the moment. But it has to be funded properly."

David Hart, NAHT general secretary, said he supported the workforce agreement but that ill-judged suggestions like this threatened to undermine it.

"These seem to be rather laughable suggestions. Just because one school can find the right person doesn't mean every school in the country can go to the WI, grab somebody and put them in a classroom," he said.

A spokeswoman for the National Remodelling Team, which is overseeing the deal, distanced it from the ideas saying they were "for discussion purposes only". She said: "It is up to each school to decide what works best for them within the requirements of the contractual change, school, LEA and statutory regulations, and the spirit of the national agreement."

Headteachers must be satisfied that outside helpers have the necessary skills and experience, as well as meeting insurance and child protection requirements.

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