Workload deal in cash crisis

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Teachers could sue schools that fail to honour agreement. Anat Arkin reports.

The deal to cut teachers' workloads could unravel as heads in many local authorities warn that they will not have enough money to implement it. Yet if schools fail to transfer routine administrative work to support staff or give teachers the non-contact time promised in the agreement, they could find themselves in hot water.

"The terms and conditions agreed are to be incorporated into teachers'

employment contracts and therefore they will be part of the obligations that their employers - be they schools or LEAs - must comply with," said education lawyer Jack Rabinowicz.

If a school or LEA broke the terms of the agreement, teachers would be able to sue for compensation or possibly apply for an injunction ordering the employer to comply with its obligations. "It would not be a defence to say that the money was not available," Mr Rabinowicz added.

Teachers will not necessarily have to go to law if they are asked to do the photocopying or one of the other 24 administrative tasks listed in the agreement.

Gerald Imison, acting general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "We will have to consider asking our members to work to the specific terms of their contract but would want to talk to the Government first if there are problems."

The threat to the workload agreement comes despite the Government's pledge to raise education spending by 6 per cent a year for the next three years.

According to John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, rising costs, including higher national insurance and pension contributions, mean that school budgets need to increase by well over 10 per cent just to stand still in the coming financial year.

"Many schools will have to use the standards fund grant to balance their budgets and it is the increase in that grant that has been specifically identified for workforce remodelling and the employment of more support staff," said Dr Dunford.

In addition to rising costs, local education authorities in the south of England have been especially hard hit by funding system changes, which favour authorities in the Midlands and the North.

In Croydon, south London, the council agreed to pass on an extra pound;250,000 to schools after local heads asked the Education Secretary to intervene. But all the borough's secondaries and around half its primary and special schools are still expected to set deficit budgets.

Furious members of Croydon Headteachers' Association agreed last week to pursue the possibility of a judicial review of the local and central government budget-setting process which, they say, has resulted in "education suicide" for the borough. There seems little prospect of teachers in Croydon seeing their workload lessen soon.

In Barnet, north London, where 150 jobs could be lost because of budget shortfalls, heads now find the notion of implementing the agreement laughable, according to Nick Christou, chair of Barnet Secondary Heads'

Association and headteacher of East Barnet school.

"In principle we have no objection to the agreement but the reality is very different," said Mr Christou, who will probably set a deficit budget rather than make any of his own staff redundant.

In the South-west, a survey has found that the projected costs of the workload agreement range from just over pound;21,000 for a small primary school in Torbay to almost pound;900,000 for a group seven secondary in the same town. The National Association of Head Teachers' south-west region, which carried out the survey, will be asking its national council to withdraw from the agreement unless the Government can guarantee its funding.

The NAHT has said it would withdraw from the agreement if it was inadequately funded. But general secretary David Hart told The TES that there were now far more fundamental issues at stake than whether or not the NAHT renounced the deal. "The key question is what is the position if the Government does not ensure there are sufficient resources to implement the agreement. If the Government isn't delivering its part of the bargain, why should other parties deliver on theirs?"

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