Restive teachers seek national strike ballot

DISRUPTION IN SCHOOLS: Union leaders attempt to steer a moderate course over class sizes as membership toys with tough action

BY JUDITH JUDD

Education Editor

Schools in some parts of Britain could be hit by industrial action over class sizes next term, despite the opposition of National Union of Teachers' leaders to a national strike.

Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, said at a pre-conference press briefing that there could be local actions and the union would continue to support members who refused to teach oversized classes.

Delegates from London will tomorrow propose a strike ballot in all schools where the union's class size limits - 30 pupils in ordinary classes and 27 in reception classes - have been exceeded. More than one million primary school children are now in classes of more than 30.

A motion from Nottinghamshire members also calls for a national one-day strike next term. Mr McAvoy said the executive would oppose such a move and warned militants not to jeopardise the alliance formed with parents and governors over spending cuts.

He doubted the effectiveness of the strike at a time when the Cabinet would be deciding education spending for next year. "If there has to be action, my choice would be for action demonstrating the extent of the problem with which parents could be associated."

On Monday, delegates will debate a motion demanding that the boycott of national curriculum tests at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 should continue. It was called off earlier this year. Some delegates also want to make government plans to train teachers mainly in schools unworkable by refusing to take part.

Another motion calls on union leaders to ballot teachers on whether to refuse to co-operate with the Office for Standards in Education over school inspections. The executive is supporting a motion asking teachers to take industrial action to prevent the engagement of self-employed teachers or those employed by agencies rather than local authorities.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, said in a letter to Mr McAvoy that there was nothing to stop governors from taking on such teachers. Mr McAvoy said Mrs Shephard was ultimately trying to casualise the workforce and that "freelance" teachers would harm children's education.

At the moment, agencies are generally used only to provide supply teachers, but the union fears the practice will spread. Agencies were originally concentrated in London, but are now found throughout Britain.

Mr McAvoy said: "Such teachers will be vulnerable to lower pay and worse contracts. They will not be part of the teacher's superannuation scheme." The union intends to campaign to persuade all political parties to outlaw the use of freelance teachers.

The union's debate on salaries this afternoon will include a motion from Croydon and Hackney calling on the executive to draw up plans for a campaign and strike action. It wants the proposals to be submitted to a special salary conference before November.

The NUT leadership, which will attempt to amend the motion, wants a campaign involving parents, governors, local authorities and political parties to back a joint salary claim for all teachers.

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