Ministers promise review of workload

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Ministers tried to head off union action over teacher shortages yesterday by promising an independent review of workloads. Teachers are refusing to cover for vacant posts or absences of more than three days in a growing number of areas.

Ministers tried to head off union action over teacher shortages yesterday by promising an independent review of workloads. Teachers are refusing to cover for vacant posts or absences of more than three days in a growing number of areas.

Local authorities, who employ teachers, also offered talks on overtime payments for teachers who cover for classes after the first three days of absence. The three biggest teacher unions have tabled motions demanding an independent review of pay and conditions for their Easter conferences.

Government sources said no pupil has been sent home because of the action. Ones in a school in Lewisham, south-east London, were sent home last week because the head had not asked the local authority for help and in Ipswich, Suffolk, pupils went home for part of Monday before action began.

The Department for Education said it would "respond positively" to a suggestion from the schoolteachers' review body for an independent inquiry into teachers' workload if the unions called off the action.

Union demands for a 35-hour week are unlikely to be met. Teachers in Scotland have been offered a 35-hour limit.

A spokesman for David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, said: "We are sceptical about the idea of a limit on the school week because we have a different way of managing schools here from arrangements in Scotland." Heads and governors manage schools in England, he said.

Graham Lane, the Local Government Association's education chairman, has asked union leaders to suspend the action so talks could start. The unions welcomed the approaches, which will be discussed by unions leaders today and tomorrow.

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