UNIONS and the Government are close to reaching an agreement on guaranteed lesson preparation time for teachers after ministers softened their stance.
The breakthrough in talks on reducing teachers' workload comes after two weeks of public argument between schools minister David Miliband and the National Union of Teachers. But disagreement over the role of teaching assistants could mean the largest teaching union is frozen out of a final deal.
Classroom and headteachers' unions now believe the Government is ready to accept that time for preparation, planning and assessment, equivalent to half a day per week, must come from within teaching time.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke had dinner with Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, on Wednesday, in an attempt to resolve their differences before yesterday's crucial meeting when the Government was expected to reveal what funds will be available to cut teachers' workload.
Mr McAvoy described the Government's proposal to allow assistants to take classes as "the big stumbling block" and said teachers feared that it could lead to them being replaced by cheaper assistants. He said the NUT may be able to come to some agreement if ministers introduce rules setting out the minimum number of teachers each school should employ.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers also have concerns, but have indicated that they are willing to accept the move if it leads to a real reduction in workload.