Teachers to get overtime payments

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Teachers across the country will be offered overtime payments for attending evening and weekend training sessions, the first time nationally that members of the profession have been compensated for extra-curricular activities.

The groundbreaking move is certain to lead to more overtime payments for other areas of teachers' work ­ such as providing out-of-hours master classes for the gifted and booster classes for children struggling to keep up in class.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, sought to defuse a dispute with teachers' unions over a call for staff to give up their evenings and weekends to top up their classroom skills by telling them they would be paid.

Ms Morris also signalled her intent to ease the pressure of the new AS-level on pupils by reducing the number of end-of-term exams sat at the end of the lower sixth form.

On the payments, Ms Morris made clear that the money heads saved by not taking on extra supply staff to cover for teachers away on courses during the school day should be used to compensate them. The current cost of a day's supply cover is about £160.

The "twilight" sessions are to be set up for teachers throughout the country from September as part of the Government's determination to raise standards in secondary schools ­ the key priority of Labour's election manifesto for education. The extra training will be in how to teach the maths and literacy strategies pioneered so successfully in primary schools, and now adapted for pupils aged 11 to 14 in secondary schools.

"We would have to pay for schoolteachers to go in and cover for their classes if they went off during the school day," she said. "I think there are a lot of teachers who genuinely would not want their training to be disruptive to the class, and be happy to be paid to do it outside school hours."

The payments strategy will allow the Government to push forward plans to improve the quality of teaching in secondary schools, without running the risk of aggravating teacher shortages by pulling staff out of school for their training ­ although it will up to individual heads and school governors as to whether they make the payments. Given encouragement by Ms Morris, however, few are unlikely to refuse.

Teachers' conditions of service have been amended by the School Teachers Review Body, which determines pay and conditions, to allow for overtime payments to be made.

The first glimpses of the change in culture in schools came when teachers in Solihull, West Midlands, earlier this year became the first in the country to win overtime payments for marking new voluntary tests for 12-year-olds ­ designed to show whether those who failed to reach the required standard in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds had caught up.

Under the Government's plan to raise standards in secondary schools, all English and maths teachers will be given training in how to implement the strategies from September. Ministers are alarmed at the number of youngsters whose standards in the three Rs fall during their first year in secondary schools

Ms Morris said the two priorities for the Government were "teacher recruitment and reforming secondary education". She added that she wanted to work with teachers' unions. "If they think about it, they know the system can be improved. After all, they think we can do better as a Government, now it's our task to persuade them we think they can do better, too."