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Unions unite over pay wish list

Clare Dean reports on the opening salvoes in this year's wage negotiations. No class of more than 30 children, a substantial pay rise and no obligation to cover for absent colleagues after the first day.

The wish list of the four teacher trade unions is now with their pay review body and the arguments can begin.

Four unions - the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, National Union of Teachers and Professional Association of Teachers - have united to make a single submission. And for the first time the Secondary Heads Association and National Association of Head Teachers have lodged their own joint claim.

In an election year, the hope is that their combined voices will carry more weight.

The unions want an increase of at least 4 per cent, although they do not formally identify the figure, preferring to talk of a rise over and above both the current rate of inflation - 2.8 per cent - and the rate of increase in average earnings, 3.75 per cent. Heads speak merely of a "substantial" increase.

Ministers have already told the review body the increase it recommends must be affordable and in a tough pre-election spending round that might not amount to much.

Chancellor Kenneth Clarke is to impose a freeze on public-sector pay for the fourth year running in order to cut Pounds 5 billion from next year's planned public spending. With budgets in schools already tight and at least 4,000 jobs lost this year, such a move will infuriate the country's 400,000 teachers.

And although the Chancellor will not dictate the pay rise he wants increases to be broadly in line with inflation - between 2 and 3 per cent.

Heads are adamant, though, that any rise accepted by Education Secretary Gillian Shephard must be fully funded by central government "in order to avoid further pressures on school budgets with the likely concomitant of job losses".

They said: "The importance to the economic health of the nation of a well-educated workforce must not be under-estimated.

"It is a measure of the managerial skill of heads and deputies that the educational improvements demonstrated by [exam and test results] have been achieved despite continuing cuts in funding."

Meanwhile the teacher unions, in their submission, warned: "Teaching is not attracting the best candidates from all sectors of society, and this will get worse as the economy moves out of recession if teachers' pay becomes progressively uncompetitive.

"Any government which believes that the objectives of effective learning by pupils and students can be met convincingly by an inadquately-paid teaching force with a scattering of relatively well-paid teachers is destined to be disappointed.

"A high quality education service requires self-confident, well-motivated teachers and needs to attract able graduate entrants over a range of disciplines in both the primary and secondary sectors."

The unions accused the Government of failing in its responsibility to recruit and retain young entrants, leading to an over-concentration of older teachers. Almost two-thirds of primary and secondary teachers are aged 40 or over and there is already evidence that an increasing number of teachers under the age of 30 are leaving the profession.

The Teacher Training Agency, meanwhile, has failed to reach its targets in each of the past three years for postgraduate certificate in education courses for secondary maths, science and modern languages.

The unions reject totally performance-related pay. They said that starting salaries for graduates in other sectors were Pounds 15,000 compared with Pounds 13,866 for good honours graduates and Pounds 12,342 for other graduates in teaching.

After three years graduates can expect their pay to have risen by 32.8 per cent. In teaching the rise is just 17.8 per cent or 24.9 per cent with one responsibility point.

Five years on, the increase is 60.8 per cent outside education, but for teachers it is 32.4 per cent or 40.3 per cent with one responsibility point.

"Unless these gaps are narrowed, the severe recruitment and retention problems being experienced will intensify," the unions said.

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