Union fury over money-saving online pay guide

8th October 2010 at 01:00
They say Government refusal to print thousands of copies of 121-page document `undermines pledge to openness'

Unions have risked being branded technophobes after challenging the Government's decision to deny schools free printed copies of the essential guide to teachers' pay.

Ministers say the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document, which runs to 121 pages, can be easily downloaded online, but unions claim that it is difficult to navigate the text, which they say is "an essential tool for clarifying issues and solving disputes" in teachers' pay.

They say the decision not to distribute copies to more than 20,000 schools is "undermining the Coalition's pledge for open and transparent government".

There have even been suggestions that the Government is using the austerity measures to "wean" teachers off the concept of national pay and conditions. A major expansion of academies, coupled with plans to give heads more flexibility over pay, has infuriated unions opposed to the changes.

But schools minister Nick Gibb has insisted the decision not to hand out the books is simply part of a general stop on communications budgets and an effort to "reduce the burden on the public purse".

In an angry letter to education minister Lord Hill, the heads of the leading teaching unions and headteacher associations claimed the decision would pass on the cost to schools, which would either have to print their own copies off the web, or have them printed ad hoc at the standard price of pound;24.

They argue that because the Government can print the documents in bulk, the cost per copy is only around pound;2. Last year, pound;131,000 of taxpayers' money was spent printing and distributing 32,000 copies of the document in schools.

David Trace, chair of the pay and conditions committee at the Association of School and College Leaders and head of Ramsey Grammar School in the Isle of Man, said the decision was a very "retrograde" step.

"I am very computer literate, but when I want to look up something in the document I always reach for the paper copy. I used it only this morning when discussing something with a union rep," he said.

Martin Freedman, head of pay and conditions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: "When the Government has been talking about the future of national pay we think it's particularly important that people are aware of the current provisions and how they work in schools.

"I have worked with the document for many years, and it is extremely hard to navigate it on a computer screen."

He added that the cost of schools individually ordering pound;24 printed copies would add up to around pound;500,000. This is the same amount given to the New Schools Network charity to help it administrate Michael Gove's free schools revolution, which unions vehemently oppose.

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