Teachers' deal on hours will result in four-day week for pupils, say unions

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The Independent Online

A groundbreaking new deal to give teachers time off in lieu could see more schools putting pupils on a four-day week from September, unions said yesterday.

A groundbreaking new deal to give teachers time off in lieu could see more schools putting pupils on a four-day week from September, unions said yesterday.

Teachers who cover for absent colleagues for more than three days will qualify for days off in lieu from next term, under a historic agreement between teaching unions and employers.

Part-time schooling will be a last resort, but the agreement will mean many schools may have to close temporarily while teachers take their time off, union leaders warned.

Overtime payments for teachers who take extra lessons for absent colleagues are also being considered. Union leaders claim overtime for teachers is needed to compensate them for the excessive workload that has been the consequence of teacher recruitment.

Under the agreement, teachers will be able to "bank" time spent taking lessons for absent colleagues and take it as time off work, usually within four weeks.

Teachers' employers said the deal should make it less likely that schools would have to send children home because of teacher shortages.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This is a good agreement addressing teachers' excessive workload in the short term.

"But the most significant proposal for teachers is the ability to bank cover provided beyond the current limits, to be repaid normally within four weeks. The recognition that such repayment might necessitate a shortened working day or week is evidence of the seriousness of the situation faced by schools."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said the agreement would "provide protection for teachers in schools facing staffing difficulties in ways which are mutually acceptable to employees and employers".

Mike Walker, assistant director of NEOST, the employers' organisation, said: "We hope the agreement to give teachers time off in lieu will make it less likely that schools will have to put children on a four-day week because it will give them another option to consider.

"But we accept that this is an optimistic scenario and that many schools will still feel they have no choice but to send children home."

Graham Lane, who represents teachers' employers at the talks, said overtime payments were still under discussion but should be used as a last resort rather than putting children on part-time schooling. He said: "We are trying to minimise the damage to children's education. Extra payments for teachers who cover is being looked at as a last resort. We would not want pupils to miss lessons because of the teacher shortages."

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "We have yet to see the full guidance, however we understand that it does not present a threat to pupils' right to a full education. We have no reason to believe that the proposals involve schools moving to a shorter working week, which we have always said would be irresponsible.

"Providing pupils with the full education to which they are entitled remains paramount. We welcome sensible proposals to increase efficiency in local supply teacher markets, such as improving advertising and recruitment processes."