Non-compliance could trigger industrial action

17th April 2009 at 01:00
Union takes firm stand on agreement

Includes reducing teachers' workload, boosting role of support staff and reserving 10 per cent of timetable for PPA.

Heads who do not implement the school workforce agreement could face strikes, teachers' leaders warned this week.

The deal, designed to reduce teacher workload and give support staff a greater role, was introduced in 2003 and will become even tougher in September with a new clause saying teachers should "rarely" have to cover for sick or absent colleagues.

At the NASUWT conference in Bournemouth, delegates voted for action up to and including strikes where schools do not comply.

The deal also guarantees teachers a tenth of their time for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) and excuses them from more than 20 administrative tasks.

Laws going through Parliament also mean schools that breach the terms of the deal could lose control of their budgets and see teams of external governors brought in.

Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, said: "Time is running out for those who continue to flout the law."

In Cardiff, there was particular focus on the cover issue from NUT conference delegates, who voted for strike action in schools where the "rarely cover" clause is broken.

Official guidance on what exactly "rarely" means is not expected until next term.

Andrew Baisley, from Camden in north London, said: "Our job is to ensure that `rarely cover' only means in exceptional circumstances."

The NUT, which never signed the agreement and had been opposed to any use of cover supervisors, changed its stance when delegates voted for their use to be limited to the first three days of an absence in secondaries and a single day in primaries.

It will still seek to ensure that supply teachers should be used where possible. But Kevin Courtney, also from Camden, said: "We need limits where we have lost the battle on cover supervisors."

Martin Powell-Davis, from Lewisham, south London, said it was "a clear and worrying shift of the union's position" and warned that "as spending cuts bite, schools will be looking to balance their budgets by employing cheaper staff".

Mr Baisley said he knew of a school that had employed a bouncer to cover lessons and that other schools advertised for cover supervisors stating that the job "would suit people with ex-military or police experience".

They thought covering lessons was "about crowd control and child-minding, and if you're stern and loud, that's what's necessary to do the job", he said.

It emerged that a Midlands recruiting agency had advertised online for ex- marines, prison officers and bouncers or policemen to work in classrooms.

Teachers should take industrial action if any changes to the Sats regime lead to increased workload, the NASUWT conference was told.

Reforms to national tests for 7 and 11 year-olds should free up the curriculum and give greater power to teachers to exercise their professional judgement, the union said.

But any changes should also come with a guarantee that they will not lead to increased workload or bureaucracy, according to the union.

The demands, which were due to be heard by the conference yesterday, follow the NUT's decision to press ahead with a ballot on boycotting national primary school tests next year.

The NASUWT has criticised that decision. It wants to see league tables reformed, but is concerned that abolishing tests and replacing them with teacher assessment could lead to extra work for teachers.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, told the NASUWT conference he would wait for a report by an "expert group" on assessment before making any final decisions on primary school testing.


By William Stewart

As more than 1,000 teachers rose to applaud the unanimous vote to ballot for a tests boycott, even cynics had to admit the atmosphere at the NUT conference was electric.

Delegates wearing red "No Useless Tests" T-shirts chanted "No more Sats", convinced that the end of the controversial tests was now in sight.

"Between us, we represent the majority of the teachers and heads in primary schools," said Hazel Danson, the NUT executive member proposing the motion.

"If the Government will not remove league tables and Sats, we will boycott them."

It was stirring stuff. But only 24 hours earlier Christine Blower, acting chief of the NUT, took a different tone when briefing journalists at the start of the conference in Cardiff.

"We are absolutely enthusiastic to talk to government about having a system of assessment which may include some element of tests, having discussions with them about how it is we can have a system where those results do not result in high-stakes accountability through the creation of league tables," she said.

"I think there is the possibility of those discussions and we are very keen to have them."

Ms Blower's optimism was fuelled by comments made earlier by Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, about key stage 2 assessment not being "set in stone".

She hoped recommendations from the Government's experts' group on assessment would make a boycott unnecessary and said there was "reasonable room for manoeuvre". But room for manoeuvre is something the experts' group does not have because of its limited remit. The TES understands the group will not be recommending major changes to KS2 assessment.

As far as league tables were concerned, Ms Blower conceded that without major reform of assessment it would be difficult to stop the tables being produced.

So it seems the NUT is heading for a ballot, which will have to take place sooner rather than later if members are to boycott the 2010 test preparations.

We have been here before. In a 2003 NUT ballot, 86 per cent backed a boycott of primary Sats tests. But with only 34 per cent of members voting, the union lacked the mandate it needed to proceed.

Senior NUT figures believe the mood is more militant this time. But success is likely to depend on the proposed alliance with heads.

Clarissa Williams, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, witnessed the Sats vote at the Cardiff conference and stood to applaud the result.

But senior NAHT figures believe it might be harder to achieve unanimity for a boycott ballot at their conference next month in Brighton. Government claims that the action would be unlawful - rejected by the NUT - are more likely to worry heads, who have legal responsibility for administering the tests, than class teachers.

Ms Williams is taking no chances. Swept up in the euphoria, she immediately contacted Mick Brookes, the general secretary, about printing up some anti-testing T-shirts.

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