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Union raises stakes in red-tape battle

THE NATIONAL Union of Teachers has escalated its industrial action over red tape, accusing the Government of failing to issue new advice to schools that would end the dispute.

The NUT last week said it would to call off its action as soon as a draft circular setting out ways of reducing bureaucracy was sent out to schools and implemented by heads.

Local authorities, churches,governors and all but one union have agreed with the circular. However, it has not yet been issued because the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is demanding further concessions and threatening indefinite action. A Department for Education and Employment spokesperson said it would come out "very shortly".

Meanwhile the unions are jockeying for position, with the NASUWT saying its action has proved very popular with all teachers, including heads, and claims that the NUT is in disarray. The NUT, by contrast, told members:

"Know when you're winning." But it is angry the circular has not been released.

It has told members to refuse to carry out a further range of tasks, including collecting money, bulk photocopying or copy typing and chasing absent pupils. They are already advised to refuse to attend more than one after-school meeting a week, rewrite policies from scratch or prepare for mock inspections.

Like the NASUWT, the NUT also wants an assurance that schools with relatively little bureaucracy will not see the document as a signal to increase paperwork and meetings.

The NASUWT wants meetings kept to one a week - the circular suggests two - and a 400-word limit on all documents written by teachers. It also says the document, which is advisory, should have more teeth.

Nigel de Gruchy, NASUWT general secretary, said informal talks with the DFEE were continuing, but it would be hard to sell a deal to members that meant more work than at present.

The National Association of Head Teachers urged the NASUWT to accept the circular as a first step to a fundamental review of pay and conditions.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said the action had had little impact so far but warned that if it dragged on, confrontation could become inevitable.

Disciplinary action against teachers for breach of contract would be disastrous. "But there will come a time when the action cuts across the wishes of management to undertake a particular course of action," he said. "As time goes on the opportunities for confrontation get ever greater."

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