'It's not about weakening teachers' says Clarke

16th April 2004 at 01:00
Education Secretary Charles Clarke this week attacked claims that hiring more teaching assistants would lead to job losses.

"The idea that we would go down the path of reducing the number of teachers to make way for assistants is completely wrong," he told the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference in Llandudno.

"The suggestion that that is what we are doing is malicious and misleading.

We are seeking to enhance the role of the qualified teacher and increase the number of qualified teachers."

He used his speech to attack the National Union of Teachers whose leaders have claimed that the workforce agreement, which it had refused to sign, would lead to teaching assistants taking teachers' jobs.

"We are absolutely not about downgrading, weakening, softening, diluting the role of qualified teachers," he said. "We are about ensuring qualified teachers are able to use their talents and skills to be able to teach.

Those who suggest otherwise are being disingenuous."

His rapturously-received speech cemented his close relations with the union as he praised the NASUWT and its leaders at length and said he wanted to see even more partnerships in the future.

Mr Clarke told the NASUWT delegates that during the NUT conference he had been watchinghis beloved Norwich football team beat Wigan. On Easter Monday he was with his family in Lowestoft eating fish and chips and playing mini-golf It was a well-deserved rest, he said.

He attacked the NUT for accusing other unions who signed the workforce agreement of being "collaborators".

Mr Clarke announced that he wanted to broaden the non-academic opportunities available to all children, and that he was particularly keen that more pupils should go on residential activity courses like those offered by the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.

He said that every pupil, no matter what their background, should be able to attend concerts, visit art galleries and travel abroad.

"Good schools vibrate with activities all day whether it's the jazz band before school, the cookery club at lunchtime, chess and dance clubs after school," he said.

"You can't draw a line around the timetable and say 'Inside that line is learning, everything outside doesn't count'."

Mr Clarke said the Government would need to do extra work to ensure that teachers who helped coordinate extra-curricular projects did not fall foul of the "compensation culture".

He announced that the Department for Education and Skills would be assigning officers for each curriculum subject who would develop strategies to improve it in close cooperation with the subject associations.

The move was part of a plan to improve the quality of professional development for teachers and give greater depth to the curriculum, he said.

Chris Keates, deputy general secretary, told the minister that the union had major concerns about league tables and the introduction of the six-term year. The drive to extend the role of schools could undermine successes in cutting teacher workload, she said.

"We don't want to fill the capacity created by the workload agreement, freeing teachers from tasks not directly related to teaching and learning, with other activities that come along with every new initiative," she said.However, she said she had been delighted by the minister's praise for her and the union, even though it "dented her street credibility".

"It is likely to be only a matter of time before an advert appears in The TES describing you as the NASUWT's government," she said.

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