Teachers warn of pay review backlash

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TEACHER UNIONS are warning the Prime Minister that he will provoke staffroom fury if he suspends their pay review body as part of the Government's drive to hold public sector salaries down, writes Colin Hughes.

Both the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association and the National Association of Head Teachers say they believe suspension would be illegal, because the teachers' review body was created by primary statute. Ministers could overcome that problem only by enacting emergency legislation; that, union leaders warned, would attract heavy criticism on an already beleaguered Cabinet, as well as the anger of more than 400,000 teachers.

Nigel de Gruchy, leader of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, added in a letter to John Major yesterday that a pay freeze 'would do untold damage' in staffrooms. He was reacting to heavy unofficial Government suggestions that public sector pay may be limited to 2 per cent, or frozen, as part of the attempt to contain public sector borrowing next year. Mr de Gruchy said it was untrue to suggest that teachers were immune from recession. Thousands had already been made redundant, largely because devolved budgetary management of schools meant that teachers had lost job security.

Teachers had also 'performed magnificently' against a background of unfair attacks on their competence and professionalism, and a period of 'unprecedented, confusing and sometimes chaotic series of reforms imposed by the Government'.

David Hart, general secretary of the heads' association, said: 'The Government has got itself in a mess with economic policy, Maastricht, and the miners. The last thing it can afford, I would have thought, is to get itself into a mess with 400,000 people who are at the forefront of implementing some of the Government's most important reforms.'

Peter Smith, general secretary of the AMMA, said suspension of the review body in only its second year of existence would represent a 'gross breach of faith' with the teaching profession. It would 'provoke anger throughout the profession', he warned.