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Train staff for literacy hour - or postpone it;Union Conference;NUT;National Union of Teachers

Union leaders are demanding immediate extra training for primary teachers if they are to introduce the Government's flagship literacy hour in September.

If they don't get it, the National Union of Teachers is to tell ministers they should delay the start of the scheme until January.

The union will not boycott the hour - indeed the leadership argues it implements elements of union policy - but delegates made it clear at Blackpool they consider it an insult to their professionalism.

Mary Compton of Radnor in Wales said: "It will be like East Germany before 1989 when every lesson was planned and dictated by the Government."

With details of the literacy hour only delivered to schools just before the Easter break, the conference held an emergency debate on the issue.

Although the hour and the advice on how to use it are not obligatory, some delegates consider the move prescriptive. They fear that failing to follow the guidelines in full could lead to censure from the Office for Standards in Education when their school is inspected.

Teachers are also concerned it may be difficult or impossible to run in mixed-age classes, found most often in small, rural primaries. Children with special needs are another complication.

"We've been given no answers so far except 'You'll make it work'," said Mike Thomas, head of a small Shropshire primary.

The union has already asked David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, for an extra in-service training day next term to allow teachers to get to grips with the hour.

"If he won't provide extra training, then he should delay the introduction," said Doug McAvoy, the NUT's general secretary. "Teachers need more time to come to terms with what the Government wishes in order to implement better what the Government wishes."

The union leadership has accepted Labour's assurances that the literacy hour is not prescriptive - that schools can use whatever methods they like provided they hit their key stage 2 targets. But it has yet to persuade members.

Ms Compton said: "Members are furious at what they are reading. It treats teachers as though they are complete fools. At the end, there's a 20-page glossary on terms used - in case you didn't know, an abbreviation is a word that has been shortened.

"For the first time, a Government is telling us how we should teach. Even the Tories didn't do that." She added that it was an idiot's guide, that could be delivered by technicians instead of highly-trained teachers.

But there was a welcome from some members who have piloted similar schemes. Frances Robbins from Bristol said all children at her school had benefited - but the greatest progress had been made by low achievers.

Members want more consultation on the framework. But union executive member Anne Waterhouse said consultations had already taken place - although the framework needed further "refinement".

But members on the left wing of the union were angry at the welcome given to the literacy hour by the leadership.

Nicolas Barnard

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