Teachers warn of 700 job losses as pupil numbers fall

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of teaching jobs will be lost this summer because of falling pupil numbers, according to a poll by The Independent today.

In a repeat of the budget crisis which cost teachers' posts at hundreds of schools across England and Wales last summer, more than 700 teaching and support staff are set to be shed in the coming months.

The losses threaten to derail an agreement with ministers to further reduce teachers' workloads this summer, according to teachers' leaders.

They come as Britain's biggest teachers' union is flexing its muscles by threatening nationwide strike action over any attempt to allow classroom assistants to take over lessons. The National Union of Teachers is certain to back the move at its annual conference in Harrogate on Saturday.

Today's survey of local education authorities shows that Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, is winning his battle to avoid job losses on the scale of last year, when 1,500 teachers faced redundancy.

Only one in eight authorities responding to the survey said they would sack any staff as a direct result of this year's budget settlement.

More than one in three, though, warned teaching posts would be lost as a result of falling pupil numbers - particularly in primary schools. Britain's declining birth rate will cost the jobs of around 530 teachers and nearly 200 support staff.

Teachers' leaders argue this will make it difficult for the Government to implement the second phase of its workload agreement, which guarantees teachers that they do not have to cover for absent colleagues for more than 38 hours a year.

To fulfil these pledges, schools would not only have to avoid job losses but would have to take on extra staff.

Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "When the Government is supposed to be implementing an agreement which will give time for teachers outside the classroom during the school day for marking and preparation, it is astonishing that any teachers should be losing their jobs for any reason.

"Falling pupil numbers is an opportunity that should be grabbed to reduce class sizes and workload instead of being used to cut costs."

Most of the authorities warning of job losses because of falling rolls said they expected early retirements and redeployment would let them avoid compulsory redundancies.

However, Warwickshire said it was "working with and advising a number of schools that may be looking to reduce their staffing establishment as a result of falling rolls/budget. It is too early to say whether there will be a need to make compulsory redundancies or what the overall impact will be," it said.

But Derbyshire County Council said: "We view our settlement for 2004-05 as the best for over 15 years. "There will be no job losses as a result of the settlement."

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