Review body warns of risk to quality

14th February 1997 at 00:00
The School Teachers' Review Body has sent out its strongest message yet that the education service is being underfunded and says increasing pressures on teachers are putting quality at risk.

This year the review body, under its new chairman Tony Vineall, has looked at funding. He was told in a letter from the Education and Employment Secretary last November that any pay increase recommended should be offset by improvements in efficiency.

However, the review body report concludes: "Some savings should always be possible, but it is difficult to envisage how significant further savings can be generated in schools through efficiency gains or productivity improvements. "

The report outlines its concerns over funding and says despite local authorities spending more than the level supported by the Government, the increase in pupil numbers at a faster rate than teacher numbers has led to larger classes and other pressures on teachers' time.

It says: "Evidence from the parties and our own study last year of teachers' workloads suggested that schools felt they were reaching the limits of what could be done without making unreasonable demands on their staff and putting the quality of education at risk."

The pay of all women non-manual earners has increased, from 1992 to 1996, by 17.9 per cent. Women teachers' pay has increased by 10.2 per cent, a 7. 4 per cent shortfall. When an equivalent comparison is made for men, a 5.9 per cent shortfall is seen.

The review body is also concerned that some teachers are avoiding promotion because they think the extra workload is not worth the extra money. Primary schools are finding it difficult to find good candidates for headship. "Over a third of unfilled primary vacancies were for heads or deputies, and in secondary schools some two-fifths of vacancies were for heads, deputies or heads of department," says the report.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "My overriding impression from the report is of a body that is deeply frustrated. It has said there is no room for efficiency savings but seems unwilling to grasp the nettle and say what it really wants to about the recruitment, retention and motivation of teachers because the Government could reject its recommendations."

He said the review body should have done more to show it was truly independent. His concerns are shared by other union leaders who are disappointed that the review body did not take on the Government for phasing its pay increase last year. Doug McAvoy, the National Union of Teachers's general secretary accused the review body of pandering to the Government's wishes.

Some of the unions are also disappointed the review body has avoided recommendations on class size, teachers' non-contact time, and hours.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The whole system is riddled with national prescription but the review body talks about the need for local decision-making. There are great danger signs for the future if we don't get class sizes down.

"The paperwork is starting to pile up again - the review body recognises increasing workloads - but if it fails to act there could be an explosion and we will be back to taking industrial action."

Pay review details, page 5

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