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Unions turn on academies

Graeme Paton reports on the eve of the TUC conference

Unions are expected to attack the Government's plan to create 200 city academies at the annual Trades Union Congress conference in Brighton next week Teaching unions claim academies - state-funded schools independent of council control - will damage neighbouring comprehensives and harm teachers' pay and conditions, as academy heads use their autonomy to vary staff salaries and hours.

The National Union of Teachers will propose a campaign against academy expansion.

John Bangs, the union's head of education, said: "Academies create a dangerous division. They skew local admissions and destabilise the teaching community."

The NUT wants the TUC, which represents almost seven million trade unionists, to use its "collective influence" before the general election and force the Government to drop the academy plans from its manifesto.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers are also expected to back the motion.

Government plans to increase teachers' pension age to 65 are likely to be another flashpoint.

Barry Fawcett, the NUT's head of pensions, said: "We want the TUC to co-ordinate opposition to the Government's pensions proposals and oppose the imposition of a normal pension age of 65."

Unions say teachers will be forced out if they are unable to retire at 60 without harming their final pension contribution. Demands for a day's action over the issue are expected to win TUC backing.

Proposals to cut civil service jobs will also be widely condemned, with the Public and Commercial Services Union calling for a further national day of industrial action.

Chancellor Gordon Brown wants to cut 104,000 posts by 2008 - including 84,000 from central government in England and 20,000 from local authorities.

The NUT fears any job losses will damage services and will call for a full review of their impact on education.

The ATL will also propose a motion calling for massive reform of current inspection programmes and league tables, claiming the government commitment to greater "personalised choice" does not stretch to teachers.

Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: "We want freedom for educators to enhance the quality of learning. The Government talks about choice, but teachers who should be able to exercise the most choice in the classroom are unable to do so."

The Nasuwt will raise concern over the the effect of the Children Bill on schools. The legislation sets out new responsibilities for schools, including closer working with social services on child protection issues.

But the union fears goals will not be achieved.

A motion says the Children Bill will be jeopardised if parents have "complete freedom" to choose schools and public services continue to be privatised. They also worry that extra work will be heaped on school staff.

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