TEACHERS are to suspend industrial action over shortages after the Government promised a review of working conditions and employers offered paid overtime.
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers will next week call off its action in London and nine other English local education authorities.
The National Union of Teachers, involved in joint action with the NASUWT, was meeting to discuss the offers after The TES went to press (for latest, see www.tes.co.uk).
Dough McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said he could not recommend the immediate suspension of action without further clarification from employers and assurances from the Government.
Education Secretary David Blunkett refused to negotiate with unions who are demanding a new contract for teachers, until the action was lifted.
Ballots affecting almost 600 schools will continue, although it is unlikely that new ballots will be started. Action on excessive workloads will also continue.
Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT general secretary, said: "We encourage people to return their ballot papers because it is important to have action in place which could be used."
It is the first time in 15 years that the Government has been prepared to talk about teachers' contracts although Mr Blunkett is said to be "not persuaded" by calls for a limit on working hours. A source close to Mr Blunkett welcomed the suspension of industrial action, claiming it could only have harmed children.
Mr de Gruchy said: "The action has been an undoubted success. It has prompted the Government to admit that there is a problem."
Until now, Mr Blunkett has ignored advice from the school teachers' review body for an independent review of workload.
His U-turn came as thousands of teachers in London, Doncaster, Kent, Leicester, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Southampton, Manchester and Reading staged a work-to-rule, refusing to cover for absent colleagues.
Mr Blunkett was willing to "respond positively" as the dispute was set to reach Middlesbrough next week, the Medway Towns had voted for action and ballots were pending in Derbyshire and Birmingham.
Meanwhile, mployers said they were prepared immediately to pay teachers pound;20 an hour to cover for colleagues after three days' absence and to talk about contracts.
At least four local authorities where teachers were involved in industrial action said they would not dock the wages of staff who refused to cover extra classes.
The Department for Education and Employment said paying teachers for cover would not require a change to the teachers' pay and conditions document, which does not mention overtime. A spokesman said decisions on overtime would have to be made locally.
Teachers have to be available for work for 195 days a year and are required to teach for 190 days. They are not expected to cover for absences of three or more days.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government needed to give schools the cash to pay teachers overtime. "We can't magic money out of thin air," he added.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said schools with vacancies who were unable to find supply staff could use that money. But he added: "Paying overtime has enormous implications."
Diary of a dispute
October 9: Corby Community College introduces a four-day week because it is seven teachers short.
January 8: Hreod Parkway, Swindon, sends younger pupils home for one afternoon a week because four posts are unfilled.
February 2: School teachers' review body recommends an urgent inquiry into teachers' workloads.
February 26: NUT and NASUWT members in Greater London and Doncaster vote to withdraw cover.
March 12: Teachers in 1,000 schools in London and Doncaster refuse to cover absences.
March 13: Teachers in Middlesbrough, Leicester, Nottingham, Southampton and Portsmouth vote for action.
March 15: Teachers in Manchester, Kent and Reading join in.
March 19: Holywells High, Ipswich, sends pupils home.
March 20: Employers and Government offer overtime payments to teachers covering extra classes and promise an independent review of teachers' workloads.
March 21: NUT in Medway vote for action.