Schools may be closed on Fridays in workload row

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Schools in England could close on Friday afternoons as a result of a row over teachers' workloads, the leader of the country's headteachers has warned.

Schools in England could close on Friday afternoons as a result of a row over teachers' workloads, the leader of the country's headteachers has warned.

Growing financial pressures are forcing many heads to consider shutting at lunchtime on the last working day of each week - giving pupils half a day off, according to David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Hart acknowledged the move would be unpopular with parents but warned that the dispute was escalating. He forecast it could lead to a "winter of discontent".

Under an agreement with the Government, all teachers have a legal entitlement to spend 10 per cent of their time away from the classroom to allow for marking and preparation from September.

However, leaders of the NAHT have pulled out of the deal - claiming their schools do not have enough money to implement it.

Headteachers argue that the only way they could stay inside the law is by sending children home - because they will not have the cash to hire stand-in staff for lessons while teachers take their time off. Mr Hart said: "There will be a number of schools struggling - several hundred schools are struggling.

"I can see a winter of discontent if there are significant numbers of schools that simply say we're not going to implement the agreement because we can't do it."

One option would be to shut the school at Friday lunchtime - which would get the staff their 10 per cent of time off. However, Mr Hart acknowledged that it "is not going to endear teachers to parents".

The row over the agreement is expected to surface as a key issue at the NAHT's annual conference in Telford this weekend. It will be Mr Hart's last after 27 years in the job.

Mr Hart is critical of his union's decision to pull out of the agreement - claiming it leaves it unable to influence decisions made in the working party set up by ministers with union leaders to monitor the agreement.

"Those who believe that we should pull out have a duty to state what the strategy is that would get us back in," he said.

Mr Hart's successor as general secretary - Mick Brookes, head of Sherwood junior school in Warsop, Nottinghamshire - campaigned on a ticket of pulling out of the deal.

The leadership's favoured candidate, David Hawker, chief education officer at Brighton and Hove, was trounced by a two-to-one majority after sticking to the line that it was better to stay in the deal. At one stage he said he did not want to lead the union if it was committed to pulling out.

Primary schools may face exceptional difficulty in implementing the agreement. Secondary schools, already often give staff time out of the classroom for marking and preparation. Following the NAHT's decision to pull out of the agreement, all the three major teachers' unions warned they would take industrial action to make sure it was implemented.

Leaders of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers will operate a "work to contract" - insisting their members walk out of the classroom for the 10 per cent of time allocated for marking and preparation. The traditionally moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it would be prepared to sanction strike action over the agreement.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, made it clear teachers were entitled to the time off from September - and urged them to sue their schools or local education authorities through industrial tribunals if they were not granted it. Labour say they have given schools enough extra funding to manage the 10 per cent rule. Industrial action is likely to start later this term when teachers see their timetables for the new school year. However, it will bite even harder from September when the time-off guarantee becomes part of the teachers' contracts if hard-up schools have not secured extra cash to finance it.

The full interview with David Hart will appear in Thursday's education supplement.