Who knew about mad idea?

12th December 2003 at 00:00
Your article, "Schools without teachers" and opinion piece "Crazed and confused" said it all (TES, December 5).

Previously, the National Union of Teachers might have described the school workforce agreement as the road to hell, paved with good intentions; now, it just looks like the road to hell.

No one should be fooled by the Department for Education and Skills's claim that its "blue skies" paper was produced without the authority or knowledge of ministers.

DfES officials are authorised by ministers to provide the workforce agreement monitoring group with non-ministerial papers on a regular basis.

Ministers are informed of what is proposed and discussed on a regular basis. No paper can be tabled that is contrary to the general thrust of government thinking.

In short, ministers are completely responsible for this and any other paper that the monitoring group receives.

Remarkably, none of the teacher organisation representatives who received the paper spoke out. If it had not been for the leaker we would still be unaware of emerging government thinking. Only when it saw the light of day did we hear voices raised in opposition.

No authoritative evidence exists about the effectiveness of support teachers teaching whole classes on their own. The need for such evidence seems to have percolated through to the DfES, which is why it has just commissioned a study for this purpose. In time-honoured fashion it has done this long after the policy decision to use support staff in this way has been taken.

There is plenty of evidence, however, that countries which concentrate on ensuring that teaching involves teachers who are highly qualified are best placed to raise standards. Andreas Schleicher of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development emphasised this at the DfES's annual research conference last week; but the department continues to ignore this evidence.

It is now nearly a year since the agreement was signed. Whilst there has been some effect on reducing burdens, the price of modest changes to the pay and conditions document has been sky-high and one which the NUT will not pay. I do not understand how other teacher organisations can continue contemplating such an open-ended bill.

John Bangs

Head of education and equal opportunities, NUT

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