Teachers told to cut holidays

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The Independent Online
TEACHERS' annual holidays could be cut by five weeks a year under proposals to be drawn up by local authority leaders today.

In return, the councils, who employ 400,000 teachers, want the Government to spend an extra pounds 6bn on education. Some of that money would have to be used to raise teachers' salaries to compensate for the big cut in holidays from 13 weeks to eight. Teachers' leaders said last night that they would only consider the change in working conditions if they were given a 50 per cent pay increase.

The idea of cutting teachers' holidays has been circulating in Whitehall since the election, and Margaret Hodge, the influential chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Education, recently suggested such a move.

Under the authorities' plans, the five weeks cut from the holidays would be used for in-service training, staff meetings, parents' evenings and lesson preparation. That would mean that teachers would not need to work such long hours after school. Teachers would be required to come into school on 215 days a year, instead of the present 190 + 5 for in-service training, but the length of school terms would remain unchanged.

Members of the Local Government Association, the umbrella body for local authorities, met David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education last week to discuss ways of raising standards. They believe their proposals will strengthen education ministers' case for more money.

Mr Blunkett is understood to be demanding an extra pounds 6bn for education from the Treasury. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, is due to announce the results of his comprehensive spending review next month.

Councils will call on the review body, which makes recommendations to the Government on teachers' pay, to make the cut in the profession's holidays in return for a substantial investment in schools.

Graham Lane, the Local Government Association's education committee chairman, said: "Teachers need modern conditions and rewards - especially those who are helping raise standards - but they must realise the present system of holidays no longer works."

The proposals will be drawn up at a meeting today of the National Association of Employers of School Teachers.

Councils are not proposing that all the extra money is used to increase teachers' salaries. It would also help to cut class sizes, pay for a classroom assistant in every primary school and employ staff to free teachers from administrative jobs.

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of School Teachers Union of Women Teachers, said: "We are not going to contemplate this kind of thing unless there is a massive pay rise in the region of 50 per cent.

"What are we going to do in this five weeks? We are trying to cut bureaucracy and meetings at the moment. Are they going to pay us more to waste our time? I don't think the country can afford to reduce teachers' holidays because no-one will come forward for teaching unless they also give teachers a massive pay rise. It is a matter of deep regret that the local government employers have not discussed these matters with the representatives of teachers before publishing them in this way."

Teachers pointed out that the profession relies heavily on women who would find it difficult to combine their job with home life if holidays were shortened.

The top rate of pay for an unpromoted classroom teacher is around pounds 22,000 and more than half teachers are at this level or below.

Mr Lane said: "If local education authorities are to drive up standards in schools the Government must be prepared to spend money. Proper rewards and better conditions of work for teachers, in return for a modernised contract for employees and cutting class sizes, are the main ways we can attract high-quality people into the service and also retain good teachers already working in the profession."

The Government has begun a recruitment drive to attract more people into teaching because applications for teacher training are falling sharply, particularly in maths and science.