Trust us,we're headteachers

It is hard to be dissatisfied with your lot in Torquay. The palm trees and beaches always lift the spirits. Nevertheless, next week's conference of the National Association of Head Teachers is unlikely to have a holiday atmosphere.

The NAHT leadership must be pleased that heads' threat of industrial action appears to have prompted the Government rethink on the funding of post-threshold pay increases. However, Britain's biggest headteachers'

union needs further proof that its views really count in Westminster.

Winston Churchill famously claimed that "Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested." But, of course, that is now laughably untrue. Many heads feel relatively powerless - as the NAHT conference motions confirm. "Conference calls upon the Secretary of State to place in the public domain her 'big picture about education'," one asks sarcastically. Another, more plaintive motion, which could have been composed at any time since 1988, states: "Conference urges the Government to trust the professional teachers of this country to provide a broad and balanced curriculum."

As NAHT general secretary David Hart says in his Platform article (page 17), Government policies - though invariably well-intended - have sometimes undermined heads' efforts to maintain discipline. But there are other valid grievances: excessive target-setting, the ineffectiveness of teacher recruitment and retention initiatives, and inequitable funding.

It is, however, the other hoary problem of excessive workload - their own and their staffs' - that is heads' chief concern. The NAHT threatens to mount a "non-co-operation" campaign if there is no tangible progress on workload reduction by the end of the year. But some heads may not wait even another six months. They will either quit early to preserve their sanity or succumb to the pressures, like the Shropshire primary head who sent a moving farewell note to The TES this week (Letters, page 20). "I now no longer want to teach but hope to do something which allows me to have a life as well," he said.

How many more heads and teachers will have to write such a letter before something is done?

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