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United pressure for new contract

THE next education secretary will face a united front of employers and unions demanding a new contract for the teaching profession.

As Tony Blair used a south London secondary school to launch the general election, unions and employers announced they are attempting to reach agreement on overhauling the teachers' contract.

The move increases pressure on the Government as it launches a workload review that could lead to changes to the contract. In a sign that Labour now recognises the scale of teacher shortages, its new five-point election pledge card includes a promise to provide 10,000 extra teachers.

But with government activity suspended until the June 7 poll, the two sides have a head start. Moreover, the election is widely expected to bring a change in education secretary.

The unions and employers' leaders also hope to agree short-term action on the cover shortage. They want to put a set of proposals to the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers on June 5.

That is likely to mean a code of practice for councils which would see them start up their own supply lists and find funds for supply teacher permanently attached to some schools. Agreement could also be reached on time in lieu for teachers covering lessons.

In a further display of unity, the Welsh teachers' union UCAC will vote tomorrow to support the joint motion by the three main English unions threatening industrial action for a 35-hour week.

Mr Blair chose St Saviour's and St Olave's CE school in Southwark - a beacon school famously rejected by Harriet Harman for her daughter - to indicate Labour's commitment to education. He promised to drive the primary reforms through into secondary schools, and pledged not just more money but modernising reform.

In the first set-piece speech of the campaign, Chancellor Gordon Brown promised to help schools build more links with local firms, and said enterprise lessons would be doubled. A Labour spokesman said that meant more specialist business and enterprise schools.

The Tories, in their opening salvo, unveiled a new election poster claiming class sizes had risen under Labour. The Liberal Democrats pledged to put a penny on income tax, raising pound;3 billion to reduce class sizes and abolish tuition fees.

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