Overworked teachers call for strikes

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The Independent Online
MEMBERS of the biggest teachers' union yesterday called for strikes to promote a new national contract to provide a four-day teaching week.

Under the contract, debated at the National Union of Teachers' annual conference in Blackpool, teachers would have one day a week for marking, lesson preparation and form filling. New teachers would have two children- free days a week and class sizes would be capped.

Most primary school teachers have no time during the school day for non- teaching tasks. Ballots of members by both the main unions have shown support for action, short of strikes, to reduce workload.

Yesterday's motion called for a National Contract Week during which teachers would work as though the contract were in place. They would not cover for absent colleagues or teach oversize classes. The motion also called for industrial action, including strikes. The final vote will take place on Tuesday.

Delegates accused the Government of failing to listen to teachers' complaints and Ian Murch, an executive member from Bradford, said a recent survey of stress among teachers carried out by Sheffield University found that 58.5 per cent had reached the point where they required medical help.

Union leaders had hoped to avoid industrial action. Doug McAvoy, a union general secretary, said outside the conference: "One of the worries is that if you have a National Contract Week teachers might be in breach of their contracts and would be left unprotected."

Meanwhile, in a separate speech, Alison Moore, a young black teacher from Lewisham, received a standing ovation after telling the conference she had been the victim of racist attacks.

She said was beaten unconscious by four white youths in the playground of the Sandhurst Primary School in Catford where she teaches. "I was left under a hedge. I spent six days in hospital. I had cracked ribs, a suspected cracked pelvis, internal bruising to the abdomen and a bruised back and head." Ten days later, 30-year-old Ms Moore received a death threat and was warned not to return to school.

Last month her house was broken into at night and swastikas and National Front slogans were daubed on her door. "I have since moved home," she said. "I have every intention of going back to school. Racism does exist in this society. Too many people are unaware of it. People need to stand up and be counted."

She warned teachers to be very careful of what they said to children. "One of the worst things that came out of this is that when I visited the school a white 10 year old said to me: 'Miss, I was worried that you wouldn't like me anymore because I am white like them'."

n Plans for computer links to help teachers prepare lessons will be announced at the conference by Education Secretary David Blunkett.

Each local authority will be allocated cash from a pounds 100m fund to link up to the National Grid for Learning.

The Government believes that the service will help cut the bureaucratic load on teachers - one of the main complaints from schools.