Teacher union urges 'return to square one': Delegates call for immediate suspension of the national curriculum and demand a 35-hour week

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THE FIRST teacher union to start boycotting tests yesterday urged the Government to suspend the national curriculum and return to 'square one'.

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers' annual conference in Bournemouth unanimously backed its executive's call for a maximum 35- hour teaching week. Delegates insisted that a weekly limit on teachers' time would be the best way of reducing workload - their central complaint against the national curriculum and testing regime.

Delegates celebrated their success in leading the other two mass teaching unions into balloting for a boycott of tests. The strongest applause went to Sue Rogers, a history teacher from Sheffield, who wheeled a trolley stacked with the full pile of national curriculum documents up to the podium - 8,085 pages of orders and guidance. 'All that effort I can now put to one side,' she said. 'God bless the boycott.'

Delegates made it plain that they were not just rejecting testing, but the way the curriculum is constructed.

Nigel de Gruchy, the union's general secretary, reflected that mood after the debate by calling for 'an immediate suspension of all the national curriculum arrangements'.

He added: 'It means going back to square one. I recognise the significance of what I'm suggesting. But how else are you going to construct a proper building, when the foundations are fundamentally flawed. If you don't tear it down, it will soon collapse under its own weight.'

Mr de Gruchy said the union had supported the principle of a national curriculum for 22 years; it believed in 'sensible testing', and in reporting pupils' progress to parents. The union has called for a slimmer curriculum and manageable tests, but Mr de Gruchy did not go into detail.

It is understood, however, that all six teacher unions are working on a set of joint proposals, which they hope to publish in the next few weeks.

At present, teachers are obliged to deliver 1,265 hours a year, but their contracts also oblige them to put in any 'reasonable' extra time that is required. The NASUWT executive believes that a firm 35-hour week (which implies 1,365 hours a year) would allow teachers to refuse to work late into the night marking work and preparing lessons.

Brian Graves, a science teacher from Pontefract, said national curriculum assessment procedures required his department to spend 135 extra hours each year 'ticking boxes' - the equivalent of three and half weeks' teaching time. 'Is that what parents want their children's teachers to be doing?' he asked.

Roger Kirk, senior vice-president, said teachers needed their load lightened: 'We've got to put the joy of education back into the classroom'.

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