Education Department recommends schools scrap full-time union reps

Guidance suggests that teachers working as reps should split their duties

Schools and local authorities have been told they should scrap any agreements to allow teaching staff paid by them to work full-time as trade union representatives.

A guidance document from the Department for Education says millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is being spent on funding teachers' trade union activities. It concludes: "No teacher funded by the taxpayer should work full-time on union work".

Ir says that it should normally be possible for them to carry out their trade union duties on just one day a week or less.

The report, which follows research from the Taxpayers' Alliance that around £14.5 million a year was spent on funding teachers' trade union activities, has sparked anger from teachers' unions who say that the funding of trade union representation can save schools money by settling disputes. The Taxpayers' Alliance research estimated the equivalent of 427 full-time teaching jobs were funded by trade union agreements.

"Teachers are paid to work in the classroom," said Schools Minister David Laws. "Clearly, effective representation of teachers can play an important role in our schools but taxpayers' money shouldn't be funding union reps to spend little or no time actually teaching.

"This advice has widespread support from the sector and will provide greater clarity, transparency and accountability about how this money is used and how it benefits schools."

The document says every head teacher who responded to a consultation exercise said trade union activities could be carried out in half a week or less. A majority of respondents felt 30 per cent of teacher trade unionists' time should be spent on teaching duties.

"All union reps should spend the majority of their time doing school based jobs," the guidance added.

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, argued that research shows that facility time for trade union activities gives schools value for money. 

She said: "We believe that schools will continue to recognise both their statutory responsibilities and the value of facilities time which encourages the early resolution of disputes and avoids the costs associated with long disputes. This guidance is unnecessary."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added: "Today's Department for education advice is a one-size-fits-all approach and is simply not workable.

"The DfE's advice is an unnecessary obstruction."

The document has been sent to every local authority and governing body in the country but is not legally binding.

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